Working in Professional and Managerial Jobs

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Have you run into some of these common stereotypes about mental illness at work? Perhaps someone has told you that because of your diagnosis, you'll never be capable of earning an advanced degree or being promoted to a supervisory position. Maybe you've been told that you can't make decisions on your own or that your work must be supervised by someone else at all times. If you held a high-level job before your diagnosis, you may even have been told you'll never be capable of returning to it -- that the best you can hope for is an entry-level, low-wage, or dead-end position.

Conventional wisdom has long said that people with psychiatric disabilities can't handle the stress of well-paying, responsible careers. But here at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, we're in the middle of a survey of hundreds of managers and other professionals which shows exactly the opposite. We're discovering that people with bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, and other major mental illnesses -- people like you -- are pursuing, finding, and keeping successful professional positions. Here's what we've learned to date:

1. A psychiatric disability doesn't automatically put a cap on your career.

Our research shows there's no significant relationship between diagnosis and educational attainment, income earned, professional status, type of job, or current employment. As many of our study participants prove, having a major mental illness doesn't have to stand in the way of working full-time, earning an advanced degree, holding a significant job paying $20,000 a year or more, or taking on increasing amounts of responsibility at work over time. Of course, you may have to work harder to achieve your goals, but they aren't inevitably out of reach just because you've been diagnosed.

2. People with psychiatric disabilities have been successful in all kinds of careers.

Naturally, many consumers of mental health services go on to work in >mental health self-help and advocacy, but that isn't the only field open to you. Participants in our study also work in a wide range of health >and social services positions as well as technology, sales, and other non-helping professions.

3. A psychiatric disability doesn't have to keep you at the bottom of the corporate ladder.

So far, 18 percent of people we've surveyed have "executive-level" jobs: CEO, president, or another position with primary responsibility and control over resources. Still more are middle managers.

4. Successful treatment is an important part of achievement.

Many of our participants have been recently hospitalized, and most continue to take psychotropic medications and/or see a therapist -- but that hasn't prevented them from harnessing their drive and desire to succeed. Being treated for your psychiatric disability shouldn't hold you back. It might even make it possible for you to go farther than ever before.

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1997, 1998 Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University

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