Home » Bipolar Disorder » Coping with Work Issues and Bipolar Disorder

Coping with Work Issues and Bipolar Disorder

Career choices

All people with disabilities should receive appropriate vocational counseling, including aptitude testing, discussion of their interests and abilities, and information about different employment possibilities. People with the ability to work should not be shunted into dead-end positions that leave them financially vulnerable. This can be a problem when in the VR system: some VR counselors assume that their job is to get you into a job, any job, regardless of your past accomplishments, educational level, or long-term aspirations.

Truthfully, very few career options are off-limits to people with bipolar disorders. If anything, people with bipolar disorders are over-represented in creative careers-art, acting, music, and writing. Many also gravitate toward high-excitement occupations, including brokerage work, the top levels of marketing and sales, medicine, and other jobs that feed their need for challenge and variety.

Of course, the more exciting the job is, the greater its potential for stress and mood swings. That shouldn’t dissuade you from pursuing your dreams, but may require lifestyle adjustments to make things work out well.

Off-limits occupations

One door that is barred to most people with a bipolar disorder is the US military. Current regulations prohibit anyone who has ever taken a psychiatric drug from enlisting. If you have never taken medication, the diagnosis itself may not preclude enlistment if you can pass the preliminary mental health screening.

There is ample reason to believe that people who have taken psychiatric medications have entered the military, however, with varying degrees of success. Whether they did not divulge their medication use when enlisting, or whether the officers in charge simply chose to ignore this one “blemish” in an otherwise promising candidate, is an open question. With Ritalin and Prozac now topping the list of childhood prescriptions, it does seem likely that the military will have to take a second look at this policy to keep its ranks filled. Should the draft be reinstituted, the ban will almost certainly have to be lifted.

Other careers that involve firearms may also be off-limits, including work as a police officer or armed security guard. That’s because under some gun control laws, a person who has been found mentally ill by a court or who has a “history of mental
illness” as defined by the state involved is legally prohibited from purchasing or being licensed to carry a gun. Most police departments also put applicants through a mental health screening process. A person whose bipolar disorder is well-controlled by medication could probably pass one of these, however.

In some states, and under some circumstances, a bipolar diagnosis could cause licensing problems for certain types of professionals. If you are in a profession that requires state licensing, such as law, medicine, nursing, or teaching, familiarize yourself in advance with the rules governing licensure. Under current US disability law, it would not be legal to fire someone simply because he or she has a certain
diagnosis-there would have to be some kind of problem behavior or loss of ability involved. However, bar associations and medical boards are currently allowed to suspend or deny professional licenses on such grounds, and so far most challenges have been upheld by the courts.

If a problem related to your illness does occur on the job and you are a licensed professional, there is usually an option to keep your license by entering a diversion program. Each state has its own regulations on diversion. In a diversion program, you practice under supervision, and may need to satisfy treatment or performance-improvement guidelines. If you do well, your license is safeguarded.

Entering a diversion program is voluntary and confidential, although in some states that confidentiality can be breached if program officials feel you pose a danger to others. If you quit or do not comply with the program, you may not be able to enter
it again. If you do complete a diversion program successfully, the records are usually destroyed after a specified period of time.

Coping with Work Issues and Bipolar Disorder

Mitzi Waltz

APA Reference
Waltz, M. (2018). Coping with Work Issues and Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.