The 30th of March is World Bipolar Day, an initiative that was started by the International Bipolar Foundation. In honour of this day, we have put together a few tips to help you manage the career anxiety that is often exacerbated by mental illness. Over 4 million South Africans struggle with bipolar; this is why it is so important to raise awareness and educate ourselves about this condition. 

Thinking about your career can be a very daunting task, even for those who don’t struggle with mental illnesses such as bipolar, depression and anxiety. Besides not having a clear idea of what career path you would like to pursue, there is the paralysing fear of failure which, more often than not, results in procrastination. While everyone is familiar with the overwhelming feelings that accompany career decisions, those who have mental health issues have an even harder time due to concomitant cognitive, physical and emotional issues of mental afflictions.

Working towards building a successful career requires confidence, clarity, passion, motivation and energy—things that do not come easily for those who struggle with mental illness. Decision-making is an important factor when thinking about your career, and it is common knowledge that one of the many symptoms of depression is difficulties in making decisions.

Since making career decisions and, if one is able to come to a decision, working towards certain goals can be overwhelming for those living with mental illnesses, giving up becomes tempting, as does giving into self-limiting beliefs that make you feel useless.


Below are four considerations that those who struggle with mental illness should bear in mind when thinking about how they can work towards having a successful career.


  1. Self-care is the first step to success
    The pursuit of a successful career requires a healthy mind, body and spirit. If you struggle with a mental illness, you would be doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t make sure that you are taking care of the parts of you that you rely on to do that work you need to do to be where you want to be. Seeing a therapist, taking your medication and maintaining a healthy lifestyle will give you the nourishment you need to start thinking about your career and working towards realising your career goals. Therefore, self-care needs to be your priority or else thinking about a career becomes futile.
  2. Your dreams are not dead
    An aspect of struggling with a mental illness that is seldom discussed is how it incinerates your dreams, leaving you feeling like you’ll never dream again. Here’s something you need to hold onto: your dreams and ambitions are not dead, they’re just dormant, sleeping under the depressive sheath but with proper treatment and patience, your ambitions will awaken and see the light of day. Be patient with the process and be gentle with yourself.
  3. Comparison is the thief of joy
    In this social media age where everyone seems to be slaying in every area of their lives, it’s very easy to feel as though you are not accomplishing anything, which only pushes you deeper into the dark abyss and can lead to self-loathing. Understand that we’re all doing what we can with the resources that we have. Right now, your energy is being used to go from one day to the next, and that is okay. You’re slaying in your own way and you need to pat yourself on the back for showing up every morning, even when you don’t want to. You are enough and you are doing enough.
  4. You have more than enough time
    You are not falling behind; life is unfolding as it should. Don’t compromise your wellbeing to try and keep up with a timeline that does not exist. As the proverbial adage goes: slow and steady wins the race. Even so, there is no race, only moments to be cherished and observed as they come and go.


It is possible to struggle with a mental illness and have a successful career, there are countless stories of successful authors, entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers who have dealt with mental health issues. Your potential is something that mental illness will never take away. The most important thing is to do what you need to do to be well. Be patient with the process; your story is still being written.

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