There is no doubt that success in higher education goes along with future success in many areas of life. Studies have shown that people with mental illnesses who have also received higher education do better than those who haven’t. So once the emergency has passed, it’s time to take a sober and realistic look at what is reasonable for the next few months. This will depend on the individual’s preferences, how he’s doing emotionally and physically, and what can be negotiated with the school. If someone is in the middle of the semester, it’s important to work with the counseling or mental health clinic to make whatever arrangements are necessary to avoid failing grades, and to either have courses changed to incompletes, which can be completed at a later time, or to withdraw altogether. Typically this involves working with a dean.
One of the biggest decisions is whether to remain at school or to return home for a period of time and recuperate. This too can be negotiated with the dean, often with input from the university’s counseling or mental health clinic.
It’s important to remember that there’s no one right answer here and that a person’s educational goals are to be taken seriously. An individual who went off to a large high-powered university and had a first episode might decide that the intensity, constant stimulation, and stress were too much. It might be that transferring to a smaller college or program could be a better fit. Someone else may decide that at least for the time, it’s better to stay home with the parents and attend a local community college. There’s also a lot to be said for easing back into the academic cycle. If someone is still dealing with residual symptoms of depression, a full course-load may be too much, but one or two classes could provide added daily structure, purpose, and meaning.
The truth is that people with bipolar disorder can and do succeed in higher eduction; depending on the person’s skills, abilities, and desires, there is no limit.