Education and employment with BPD

BPD and job and study performance

It is certainly possible to have BPD and success in education and employment. In fact, many maintain strong careers when able to control BPD symptoms. On the other hand, some people with BPD have trouble with their career in which some are unemployed, underemployed or unhappy in their jobs.

From an educational and occupational perspective, if you have BPD you may experience some of the following difficulties:

  • Relating inappropriately with coworkers, other students, supervisors and teachers.
  • Inappropriate responses to work/social situations, e.g. angry outbursts, depressive states, maintaining boundaries, generating conflict.
  • BPD symptoms (e.g. dissociation) can interfere with concentration and commitment to complete assigned tasks.
  • All-or-nothing thinking means you may idealise your education or job until something like a poor result or review makes you devalue it and give it all up.
  • Identity problems can make it hard to settle on one career path or degree and can cause you to be behind in job growth.

If the borderline symptoms are contributing to depression, you may also experience:

  • Absenteeism or tardiness from work or school/university
  • Need for increased time and attention to learn work/study skills
  • Difficulty with staying focused on a task
  • Limited stamina to perform work or student duties

OTTO KERNBERG – How BPD express itself

While interpersonal relationships may at times seem limiting, people with BPD are intelligent, creative and talented. Having the diagnosis does not automatically make one a poor prospective employee or student. Like any obstacle in life, it is about managing the symptoms so that your capabilities can shine through.

Tips on managing BPD symptoms at work and school
  • To discuss office relationships, find someone outside of work such as a therapist or trusted friend to maintain division between work and social life.
  • All-or-nothing thinking is common and are fleeting so keep note of this about yourself to remain stable and consistent.
  • Make developing stable and professional relationships your workplace goal. Observe interpersonal relations and communication at work.

Building a strong career and pursuing a degree

You may experience problems in a couple or all the factors above so you should keep them in mind when choosing a career. Think about how these symptoms might impact your daily functioning in your choice of career. For example, if you recognise you have problems with stress, it may be more ideal for you to work in a quiet and calm environment than a fast-paced industry.

However, don’t let BPD control your educational and job aspirations. There are people with BPD who have achieved success in every profession. One of the best and most inspirational examples is Dr Marsha Lineham who is a therapist, researcher and creator of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy for people diagnosed with BPD.

MARSHA LINEHAM – The power of rescuing others

Remember to think about the things you do and do no have control over when evaluating your strengths and weaknesses and keep in mind that you are a person separate from your diagnosis.

Speak to your therapist about useful strategies in managing your symptoms and suggestions for potential careers that suit your skills and talents.

Take one step at a time

Starting or changing a career takes time and growth for everyone, no matter what challenges they have. Remember to concentrate on small and meaningful goals and celebrate little victories along the way. Focusing solely on the big final goal can become frustrating and overwhelming. To reduce study stress, perhaps take a smaller class load or take online courses.

Keeping up with motivation

Whether a small step forward has a negative or positive outcome, remember to stay calm. Your family and friends can support you and validate your emotions for your success or perceived failure to keep you motivated onto the next steps. Working with a partner at work or school so that you are accountable may help you complete tasks.

Have a routine

For some with BPD, impulsivity can be difficult to control. Schedule time for work-related and study-related activities and time away from them. It is also important to relax and reconnect with just being an individual. Make time to de-stress and enjoy the company of family and friends for a balanced life schedule.

Reasons for being open about your mental illness

These days, people are more open to learning about the different types of mental disorder.

Disclosing to your employer or educator about your mental illness allows for an open and trusting relationship as well as both your ability and the employer’s to discuss and consider changes that may help you grow in your career. Being open with your coworkers and classmates about your mental disorder will allow them to be supportive of you and even promote teamwork to help you stay positive and have a stable environment at work or school/university. Telling your colleagues and classmates about your mental health is also a great way to raise awareness and let them learn about your condition.

However, be mindful to maintain a division between work life and home life. Opening up too much to coworkers can leave you feeling vulnerable to people you no longer trust and lead you to regret past friendships.

HEADS UP: Talking about a mental health condition at work – Katrina’s story, part 1

Discussing mental health issues at work and school

Telling people at your workplace or school about your mental illness whether before or after initial meeting is a personal choice. You may already have discussed your illness with your employer at the job interview or educator in your first class.

You are only required to mention your mental illness if it could prevent you from completing your job or study requirements in a safe and effective manner. This includes the safety of your coworkers and classmates.

Even if you do mention your mental illness to another person at work or school, they cannot tell anyone else without your permission to do so.

HEADS UP – Geoffrey tells his manager about his mental health condition

Your mental health rights at work and school

It is illegal for anyone in your workplace or school/university, whether it is your employer, manager, coworkers, classmates or educator to make upsetting or offensive comments about any mental illness. None of these comments can be made to you or anyone else at any time.

Discriminatory comments should not be tolerated and should be reported immediately. Click here to see what actions you can take if you believe you are being discriminated against.

Resources for being mentally healthy in the workplace and school

Join Heads Up for free tools and resources in taking care of yourself, coworkers and knowing your rights in the workplace and educational institution.

Download the Mad Workplaces: a commonsense guide for people with “mental illness” on how to navigate the workplace and go to Our Consumer Place for more publications, articles and newsletters.


Very Well – An example of BPD in college

BPD – Borderline issues make college harder, but not impossible

Very Well – Careers for someone with BPD

The New York Times – Expert on mental illness reveals her own fight

The Guardian – Having borderline personality disorder helps me in my NHS job

Borderline Personality Treatment – How to help your loved one with BPD start their career

The Guardian – Secret teacher: I dare not tell anyone about my personality disorder

SBS – What are your rights and obligations around mental health in the workplace?

BPD – Winning in the workplace with BPD

Very Well – BPD at work: symptoms that can block ‘fitting in’

BorderlinerNotes about employment & education

REBBIE – Going back to film school & cleaning up her #%@

REGINA – Acting out in the workplace

SID – Why it is difficult for him to stay with a job

To see more BPD interview footage relating to employment and education see BorderlinerNotes.

Written stories

Helping others, helping herself. Volunteering with Red Cross has given Bianca a feeling of purpose, sense of responsibility and ownership.