New horizons and collaborations on BD in the Workplace: Dr. Lisa O’Donnell’s visit to Vancouver

on August 10, 2018
New horizons and collaborations on BD in the Workplace: Dr. Lisa O’Donnell’s visit to Vancouver

Drs. O’Donnell and Michalak taking some downtime at the beach on the Sunshine Coast, BC

Who I am:
My name is Lisa, and I study the nature of impaired quality of life, such as lack of employment, found among people who live with bipolar disorder (BD) and other severe mental illnesses, and how to improve these impairments. I am Assistant Professor of Social Work at Wayne State University in Michigan, as well as a Clinical Social Worker with many years of experience working with families, adolescents, and adults.

My work is focused on improving work outcomes among people living with severe mental health conditions such as BD. Although there are many individuals living with BD who have extremely successful work lives, many others who live with BD experience challenges with consistent work performance and even with staying employed. Unemployment rates among people who live with BD are much higher than in the general population, with around 40-60% of people with BD being unemployed, often because they didn’t do as well as expected at their jobs (“workplace under-performance”; Marwaha et al., 2013). People with BD have reported that stigma can negatively affect their work performance if they do not have a supportive work environment (O’Donnell et al., 2017, Michalak et al., 2007). The good news is that improvements in the work environment, such as support from employers and coworkers and better illness management in the workplace, can benefit people with BD — and are, in fact, critical for successful work outcomes (Michalak et al., 2007; Porter et al., 2017).

To create new relationships to support this research, I recently had the opportunity to visit the University of British Columbia and CREST.BD to learn more about the highly innovative and impactful work they are doing to improve health and quality of life of those with BD. During this time, I was honoured to share my expertise on two topics. First, I shared an overview of Family-Focused Treatment specifically for adolescents who live with BD, or who are at risk of developing it, and their families. Second, I shared discoveries from my research about BD in the workplace: I discussed our understandings of the long-term impact of BD on work outcomes, as well as predictors of work impairments among those who live with BD. Finally, I co-authored an overview of some of the current best-practice treatments for enhancing work outcomes among people with BD.

Another productive focus of my visit was to develop a future collaboration with UBC and CREST.BD. My future research with UBC and CREST.BD will include working in partnership with people who live with BD to identify which strategies they have used in their workplaces to ensure greater work success. This research aims to create new knowledge about BD in the workplace, as well as gauge interest in a work intervention designed specifically to target key issues for working adults with BD, including mood management techniques in the workplace, illness disclosure, requesting/obtaining work accommodations, and addressing stigma at work.

This collaboration between Wayne State University and UBC has exciting potential. BD affects people all over the world, and therefore incorporating different cultural contexts and understanding delivery of care across health systems in different countries has the potential to improve care internationally. Pooling resources and sharing expertise with many different researchers and people with lived experience of BD can improve the overall quality of research and facilitate greater progress in our joint goal to enhance the lives of individuals living with BD.



Dr. Lisa O’Donnell joined Wayne State University’s School of Social Work in 2017 as an Assistant Professor. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan’s Joint PhD program in Social Work and Clinical Psychology in 2016 and went on as a post-doctoral scholar under the Max Gray Fellowship in the Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program within UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry with Dr. David Miklowitz. Lisa is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, with over 12 years of experience providing individual and group psychotherapy to adolescents, adults and families.

Thank you to the Laurel Foundation, whose philanthropic funding in part supports collaboration with experts like Lisa.


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