Will mental health issues hurt my career chances

Nurses Disabilities


Hey everyone, new member here with a question for you all. I've finally figured out that I want to go back to school to get my BSN and eventual nurse practitioner's license and work in pyschcatric nursing. I'd especially love to help teenagers.

Anyway, the reason I want to do this is because I've had some mental health issues in the past and want to elp others deal with them. The issues were depression and anxiety. They were bad enough that when I was a teenager I tried to commit sucide. That's been over a decade and I haven't had any thoughts since I was a minor at the time. I'm still seeing a doctor mainly because I want to keep this under control. My big fear is that i wont be able to work in pyschcatric nursing. Do you all think I'd be okay in terms of licensing and such?

Specializes in Psych ICU, addictions.

If it was mandatory that a nurse not have any psych issues, we'd have precious few nurses eligible to work.

Having a psychiatric history will not hold you back from being a nurse as long as it's being well-managed. Whatever it takes for "well-managed" to occur is between you and your psychiatric provider. For some, the answer is therapy. For others, it's medications. Or intensive outpatient/partial hospitalization programs. Or any combination of all of the above...or none of the above. Since you're already seeing a provider to keep things under control, you're ahead of the game.

As far as disclosing any psych history to potential or current employers, my answer is DO NOT VOLUNTEER THAT INFO. Unfortunately, there is still quite a stigma attached to mental illness, and employers and coworkers are more likely to view it--and you--as a liability than as an asset. And honestly, if anyone outright asks, I wouldn't answer either.

FYI: employers can't ask about whether you have a mental illness. But it is perfectly legal to ask whether you can perform certain job duties. If it happens that your psych issue makes it impossible to perform those duties...

Some BONs do ask about mental illness on the application form. Despite what I said in the previous paragraphs, I can't and won't advise you to lie to a BON. How you will answer that question is something that you need to decide for yourself.

Drug screens...depending on what psych meds you are on (if any), you may pop positive--genuinely or falsely--for certain substances on a drug screen. Now comes the issue of whether to disclose what psych medications you're on. Some companies want you to disclose all meds before taking the test. Others won't address it unless there's an abnormal result. And some will consider it an automatic fail if you didn't disclose any and all meds before the test, even if you have a legit script (I witnessed this first-hand so don't think it can't happen). So that's another decision that you'll have to make for yourself.

And last, do not fall into the trap of thinking that you can use your own psychiatric history to land a psych nursing job. First of all, it'll still be seen as a liability: will it affect your patients' care, will it affect the organization in any way, are you there only to try to meet some unmet psych need, etc. Second, having a psych history doesn't automatically mean you'll be good at psych nursing. Last, instead of being something to use to connect and build a rapport with patients, patients are just as likely to throw your psych history in your face and/or use it against you.

Hope this helps.

Specializes in ICU/community health/school nursing.

I defer to Meriwhen because she said everything I was going to. Especially about not volunteering your data. Nobody asks me about my well-controlled asthma. It's none of my business about your well-managed depression.

I will also add: you may not get your first choice right out of nursing school. In north Texas there are more new grads applying for positions than there are positions for new grads (seasoned nurses - that's a different story). If you're going into nursing, do so with an open mind and realize that it will take you at least a year to get where you want to go, unless you're extremely flexible and can get to a real shortage area.

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