Job accommodations: Perspectives from people with bipolar disorder

Bipolar Affective Disorder (BD), also known as ‘manic depression,’ is a chronic, often recurrent condition that affects more than half a million Canadians. It is characterized by changes in mood and behaviour, which range from elevated, euphoric and irritable (mania), to sad, withdrawn and hopeless (depression). While symptoms such as depression and euphoria can be controlled to some degree by medications, they can still result in significant challenges for individuals living with the disorder. Several studies have shown an association between BD and impairment in social roles such as work. Notably, people with BD rate work as the role most important to their quality of life, and the ability to maintain financial independence and contribute to the social fabric of our world is tied to how people work. Consequently, satisfactory employment is associated with improved health outcomes. However, the ability of people with BD to engage in work varies widely. Symptom recovery from an episode of BD occurs before functional and occupational recovery, which suggests factors beyond clinical symptoms can influence a person’s capacity for employment. In her research, Sandra Hale is exploring both formal and informal job accommodations with a view to improving employment outcomes for people with BD. Formal accommodations are defined as changes made to job structure and/or demands, documented by employers, disability management or vocational rehabilitation services. Informal accommodations are defined by the person with BD to address workplace issues or job demands. The results of Ms. Hale’s project will be shared with health care providers and mental health organizations and may help inform policy promoting access to information about job accommodation for people with BD.