Approximately 2 in every 100 people in the UK have bipolar disorder, but bipolar is still considered to be a taboo subject.
Even superstar Mariah Carey, who recently decided to speak out about her experience with bipolar disorder, highlighted her constant fear that someone would expose her.
This stigma around bipolar disorder, as well as the symptoms of the conditions, can make the workplace a difficult environment for employees.
How can line managers spot the signs of bipolar?
To spot potential signs of mental ill-health, it’s vital that managers have regular training – ideally at least once a year. Research and understanding of bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions is constantly improving so an annual refresher course will help managers stay up to date with the latest thinking, and cost businesses a lot less than repeated employee absences.
This training needs to include educational and interactive elements – we recommend the use of case studies and genuine scenario planning to help managers explore how to recognise potential symptoms and the way in which they might speak to an employee who seems to be experiencing a mental health condition.
Training also helps avoid inconsistencies and ensures all line managers understand the boundaries in terms of the support they can offer.
Businesses should also consider providing training for other employees, not just line managers. This can be hugely helpful in creating a positive workplace culture in which those with bipolar or other mental health conditions feel safe, supported and comfortable coming into work every day.
It’s often colleagues, not line managers, who first spot the signs of a mental health condition, so it’s helpful if they know what to be looking out for and what the next steps are if they have concerns.
How can line managers support those who may have bipolar but have not been diagnosed?
It’s important to know that recognising bipolar disorder and getting a diagnosis can be challenging. This process can take many years, and lots of people avoid getting a diagnosis because of the misperceptions surrounding the condition.
This can present difficulties for managers who believe a team member could have bipolar disorder. In this situation, the best thing to do is have a simple conversation with the employee.
If they seem to be experiencing dramatic changes in mood, just ask some basic questions. For example: Do you feel ok? Is there anything I can help with? Having this initial conversation might lead to the employee being more open about what they are experiencing and then seeking professional help.
The line manager will need to continue working hard to build trust and show support for the employee. Regularly checking in and having open conversations should, over time, persuade the employee that they can speak up.
If employees feel they are able to share what they are experiencing, the line manager will be in a much better place to provide the support the individual needs.
How can line mangers support those who have been diagnosed with bipolar?
Where there is a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, one of the best things the line manager can do is educate others in the company to increase their understanding, correct their misconceptions and remove any sense of stigma.
A lot of people don’t realise that with the right medication, people with bipolar disorder can be in work and productive and there’s usually no need to have additional time off work. There’s also often a lack of understanding about the different types of bipolar, which can prevent colleagues from empathising with and supporting each other.
Supporting an employee with bipolar is no different to managing an employee with any other mental health condition. Line managers need to be well trained in spotting the early signs that someone may be struggling, but they don’t need to be experts on the topic.
They are not clinicians and don’t need to be able to diagnose, they just need to be able to recognise what’s going on and have honest and open conversations with employees.
How can leaders help remove the stigma?
Business leaders need to demonstrate support for those struggling with mental health conditions from the top. Openness and honesty from senior management is vital to remove stigma and allow employees to feel safe sharing their own issues with mental health.
Ultimately, it’s crucial for employers and employees to understand that bipolar is a complex condition and that the experience is different for every individual.
Not everyone with bipolar disorder will be able to work all the time, but most people who experience bipolar are able to continue working as normal.
Some people will want to share their story with colleagues, while others may prefer to keep it to themselves. Whatever the case, businesses need to ensure they are providing a supportive environment for those with this condition, or any other form of mental ill-health.
About Pat Ashworth
Pat is a Learning and Development specialist and facilitator with over 25 years’ experience in coaching and developing people in both the public and private sectors. She has an extensive track record in talent management, executive coaching, leadership development and performance management.
Pat works with senior leaders and managers on a one to one and group basis, specialising in helping to develop their leadership skills and to maximise performance. A business focused senior HR professional with considerable financial services and business to business experience, at both strategic and operational levels across retail banking, insurance, legal, sales and service centres and multi-site operations. Pat joined AdviserPlus in October 2007 from Co-operative Financial Services where she held a number of senior roles including Head of Management Development.
Pat is both a Chartered Member of the CIPD and member of the British Psychological Society.