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Woman with Bipolar Disorder Wins Court Case

Future discrimination of people with Bipolar Disorder may be more difficult

Score one (kind of) for Bipolar Disorder.  A federal jury awarded a woman who was fired because she requested time off from work to deal with a manic episode $32.5 thousand.

Bipolar Disorder StigmatizationBipolar disorder (and many other psychiatric illnesses) carries a relatively big stigma in the workplace.  Unless you are in the creative arts, likely, you will not want anyone at your job to know that you have bipolar disorder.

Three years ago, a nursing assistant who worked in an assisted living facility, named Charlotte Massey realized she was in the middle of a manic episode.  Charlotte had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder – and kudos to her for recognizing that she needed to do something about it before it spiraled out of control.

When she called her boss, the owner of the facility, her boss not only didn’t give her “kudos”, he gave her a pink slip.  She got fired because she asked to take a leave of absence to deal with her medical issue.

Unlike most people who have been fired for Bipolar Disorder – Charlotte didn’t lose her job because she went wacko.  Instead, she maintained enough mental clarity to notify her employer of her Bipolar Disorder Discriminationdisability and was rewarded with… firing.

It is certain that the owner of the facility was aware of the American with Disabilities Act.  It is likely that he or she was aware that he could not randomly fire employees with physical or obvious mental disabilities. But, it may be that he was unaware that “mental disabilities” includes illnesses such as bipolar disorder.

The ADA bars discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities who can perform the essential functions of their job with “reasonable accommodation” and without imposing an “undue hardship” on the employer.

From the outside, some may say… well she wanted to take time off.  In fact, she took a whole five days off, with herself or a family member reporting in each day with the supervisor.  When she returned to work after only a week of absence, she was fired.

Part of the law includes an evaluation of whether the employer would be subjected to “undue hardship”.  Is giving an employee time off to deal with a medical issue, an employee whose shifts could be made up by another person – an undue hardship?

Workplace StigmaThe court thought it was not.  The jury awarded Massey $25,000 in damages for lost wages and benefits and $7,500 in punitive damages.

The employer and his lawyer attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed by claiming that:

•    Charlotte Massey wasn’t fired; she resigned
•    She had a faulty memory of the events due to her disability
•    She never reported her disability to her employer

In fact, none of those were true.  Though the employer’s attorney repeatedly referred to the case as “frivolous”, the jury found otherwise.
This award may be the first of its kind, and it may be small, but it is a groundbreaking case.  With the ability to claim protections of the ADA, future discrimination may be more difficult.

Melissa Lind

More difficult for Bipolar Disorder stigma in the future!

Diagnosis and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose.

The average bipolar patient will see three mental health professionals before getting the right diagnosis. In fact, one-third of bipolar patients will not be diagnosed with the disorder until more than 10 years after they first seek treatment.

There is a lot of similarity between the symptoms of bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions, but that isn’t the only reason why it is so difficult to diagnose. Here are some of the complicating factors:

Bipolar Disorder PatientThe patient only talks about depression – as bipolar disorder is a condition that has periods of depression alternating with manic episodes, many patients present when they are depressed. This is particularly true when a patient seeks treatment for themselves. Manic patients feel good or at least energized and are unlikely to believe that anything is wrong. Either they feel terrific, or they are in a heightened “bad” mood – and likely to blame that on other people or life circumstances. Consequently when they first seek treatment – they only profess to the depression as that is most bothersome.

Bipolar disorder looks like anxiety – in actuality, many, if not most bipolar patients also have some type of anxiety disorder. Consequently it may be very difficult for mental health professional to root out bipolar disorder. If patients are seen as agitated, hyperactive or fidgety, they may be only asked about anxiety or given a self-rating scale for anxiety. This would immediately lead the practitioner to diagnose an anxiety disorder – unless careful investigations were done.

Substance abuse can be complicating the issue – many bipolar patients spend years self-treating with substances of abuse. This includes prescription medications, recreational drugs and alcohol. There is not any particular drug that is more often abused by bipolar people as a whole – some will choose alcohol, some will prefer stimulants, some will choose pain medications – all of which will mask the symptoms to some extent. In some cases, the substance abuse appears to be more problematic than anything else and in cases of addiction; the substance abuse must be treated before an accurate evaluation can occur.

Denial is very common – Denial is a nice way of saying dishonesty. That would be lying. This sounds very harsh but in many cases, bipolar patients will not be honest about difficulties that they have had. It may be subconscious dishonesty in that they, themselves do not really know what the problem is. Lack of awareness is common but outright denial is also common. Many bipolar patients absolutely refuse to accept the diagnosis when it is first presented – even after years of not being treated properly. Oddly, this may make it more likely that the practitioner believes that the patient has bipolar disorder but such outright denial delays treatment.

These are just a few of the reasons why bipolar disorder is so difficult to pin down and, unfortunately, delayed treatment can have huge life implicationsBipolar disorder is one of the riskiest psychiatric illnesses to have and can have severe consequences for the patient who is not properly diagnosed and medicated – including job losses, family disturbance, institutionalization, jail and even death.

Bipolar disorder affects not only the patient himself – but family and loved ones as well.

Why is it so difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder?