It’s challenging to come to terms with being bipolar, especially if you have dreams of a fulfilling and high-powered career.
A diagnosis can feel like the end of the world, making you doubt your ability to achieve your dreams.
However, it’s essential to understand that many people – including psychiatrists – have respected careers in their respective fields should they seek treatment early and remain consistent with their treatment plan.
Is it possible to be a psychiatrist while managing your own mental illness? Yes, but only if you take these critical factors into consideration.
Benefits Of Being Bipolar As A Psychiatrist
Difficult as it may be to believe, having a well-managed mental illness can benefit clinicians in providing excellent patient care, especially those in psychiatry.
An article in the journal Academic Psychiatry noted that residents and doctors who intimately understand the struggles of mental illness can better empathize with their patients and offer efficacious coping strategies, as well as better connect.
Residents agree, noting that those who have an illness or know a loved one with an illness can consider what they might appreciate in a given situation and provide that to their patients.
Working Conditions In Psychiatry
Though there are positives to being bipolar in a clinical setting, it’s also critical that those considering psychiatry understand their challenges.
Medical training is incredibly strenuous, even for those without a mental illness; studies show that depression levels rise amongst those with no documented history of emotional disturbances, which means that those with bipolar are at even greater risk of suffering from serious setbacks in their care.
This comes not just from the stresses of learning on the job and taking on the struggles of one’s patients, but from the working conditions as well.
Long hours, often without adequate breaks, can lead to inconsistent routines, a major issue for those trying to keep their moods stable.
Many bipolar individuals may struggle with brain fog and executive dysfunction, making it difficult to make good decisions or stay on top of a patient’s treatment.
Furthermore, once a medical student enters their residency, the strong support system and mental health treatment available in a university may disappear, leaving them unable to meet their own psychiatric needs.
There is also the concern of microaggressions; it is a sad fact that clinicians, even those in psychiatry, still hold biases against the very patients they are meant to heal.
Any disclosure of one’s mental illness may lead to accusations of incompetence, even without clear proof, and make it difficult to build good working relationships with other staff members.
To Disclose or Not To Disclose?
There is no law or formal code that a psychiatrist must disclose their own mental illness to their peers or patients.
However, if you are currently undergoing treatment with your own mental health team, and your psychiatrist is concerned about your current behavior, they have a necessary duty to warn the medical board and are entitled to share your diagnosis.
This can lead to a sanction and potentially the suspension of your license if there is evidence of malpractice or a serious risk to your patients.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, you are not required to self-disclose unless you seek accommodations.
For this reason, many psychiatrists do not discuss their mental illness; however, major institutions, such as the University of Oxford, suggest that psychiatrists should be open and honest with their employees and staff regarding their bipolar disorder.
Not only does this build trust in your support network, but it also ensures that your team can watch for any worsening symptoms of bipolar and assist you in seeking treatment before it imperils patient care.
In regards to disclosing your illness to patients, it’s generally recommended that you keep this information confidential, as it may weaken trust and be seen as a blurring of professional boundaries.
Finding Employment As A Psychiatrist With Bipolar Disorder
If you choose to pursue psychiatry, seeking an excellent employer who will understand your condition and ensure you are fully supported is essential.
Specialist medical job boards can assist you in finding psychiatry jobs; this is the first step to take in finding a good position, as these job listings are often more comprehensive than those you may find on a more generalist job board.
You may ask your network about the working conditions in this particular system before choosing to apply.
Ask questions to ascertain whether it has a good work-life balance, which is crucial for bipolar individuals.
Those further along in their career may feel more comfortable disclosing their mental illness upfront, as they have professional accolades that prove their trustworthiness and ability to manage their condition.
Psychiatry residents may choose to be more hesitant about discussing their bipolar disorder.
Remember that you need only disclose what you are comfortable providing to those around you; you are only required to self-identify if you feel you will need accommodations.
Above all, stay on top of your own treatment and remember that as a bipolar individual, you have a unique insight into psychiatry.
Leverage this, find an understanding employer, and you can have a rewarding career in psychiatry even with your particular challenges.