Bipolar disorderLiving with

Although it's usually a long-term condition, effective treatments for bipolar disorder, combined with self-help techniques, can limit its impact on your everyday life.

Although it's usually a long-term condition, effective treatments for bipolar disorder, combined with self-help techniques, can limit its impact on your everyday life.

Stay active and eat well

Eating well and keeping fit can help reduce the symptoms of bipolar disorder, particularly the depressive symptoms.

It may also give you something to focus on and provide a routine, which is important for many people.

A healthy diet, combined with exercise, may also help limit weight gain, which is a common side effect of medical treatments for bipolar disorder.

Some treatments also increase the risk of developing diabetes, or worsen the illness in people that already have it.

Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising are an important way of limiting that risk.

You should have a check-up at least once a year to monitor your risk of developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

This will include recording your weight, checking your blood pressure and having any appropriate blood tests.

Read more information about losing weight and improving fitness.

Use self-management programmes

Self-management programmes aim to help you take an active part in your own recovery so you're not controlled by your illness.

Courses like those run by Self Management UK for mild to moderate mental health conditions may be helpful if you feel distressed and uncertain about bipolar disorder.

Talk about it

Some people with bipolar disorder find it easy to talk to family and friends about their condition and its effects.

Other people find it easier to turn to charities and support groups.

Many organisations run self-help groups that can put you in touch with other people with the condition.

This enables you to share helpful ideas and helps you realise you're not alone in feeling the way you do.

These organisations also provide online support in forums and blogs.

Some useful charities, support groups and associations include:

Talking therapies are useful for managing bipolar disorder, particularly during periods of stability.

Services that can help

You may be involved with many different services during treatment for bipolar disorder.

Some are accessed through referral from your GP, others through your local authority.

Community mental health teams (CMHT)

These provide the main part of local specialist mental health services.

They offer assessment, treatment and social care.

Early intervention teams 

These provide early identification and treatment if you have the first symptoms of psychosis.

Your GP may be able to refer you directly to an early intervention team.

Crisis services

Crisis services allow you to be treated at home, instead of in hospital, for a sudden episode.

These are specialist mental health teams that deal with crises that occur outside normal office hours.

Acute day hospital

These are an alternative to inpatient care in a hospital. You can visit every day or as often as you need.

Assertive outreach teams

These deliver intensive treatment and rehabilitation in the community, providing rapid help in a crisis.

Staff often visit you at home and liaise with other services, such as your GP or social services.

They can also help with practical problems, such as helping to find housing and work, or doing your shopping and cooking.

Avoid drugs and alcohol

Some people with bipolar disorder use alcohol or illegal drugs to try to ease their distress.

Both have well-known harmful physical and social effects, and are not a substitute for treatment and good healthcare.

Some people with bipolar disorder find they can stop misusing alcohol and drugs once they're using effective treatment.

Others may have separate but related problems of alcohol and drug misuse, which may need to be treated separately.

Avoiding alcohol and illegal drugs is an important part of recovery from episodes of manic or depressive symptoms, and can help you gain stability.

Read more about alcohol misuse and drug misuse.

Money and benefits

It's important to avoid too much stress, including work-related stress.

If you're employed, you may be able to work shorter hours or in a more flexible way, particularly if job pressure triggers your symptoms.

Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make the employment of people with disabilities possible. This includes people with bipolar disorder.

A range of benefits is available to you if you cannot work as a result of bipolar disorder.

These may include:

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Living with or caring for someone with bipolar disorder

People living with or caring for someone with bipolar disorder can have a tough time.

During episodes of illness, the personalities of people with bipolar disorder may change, and they may become abusive or even violent.

Sometimes social workers and the police may become involved. Relationships and family life are likely to feel the strain.

If you're the nearest relative of a person with bipolar disorder, you have certain rights that can be used to protect the person's interests.

These include requesting that the local social services authority asks an approved mental health professional to consider whether the person with bipolar disorder should be detained in hospital, also known as sectioning.

You may feel at a loss if you're caring for someone with bipolar disorder. Finding a support group and talking to other people in a similar situation might help.

If you're having relationship or marriage difficulties, you can contact specialist relationship counsellors, who can talk things through with you and your partner.

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Dealing with suicidal feelings

Having suicidal thoughts is a common depressive symptom of bipolar disorder. Without treatment, these thoughts may get stronger.

Some research has shown the risk of suicide for people with bipolar disorder is 15 to 20 times greater than the general population.

Studies have also shown that as many as half of all people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once.

The risk of suicide seems to be higher earlier in the illness, so early recognition and help may prevent it.

If you're feeling suicidal, go to your nearest A&E department as soon as possible.

If you're feeling very depressed, contact your GP, care co-ordinator or local mental health crisis team as soon as possible.

You could also call NHS 111 for an immediate assessment.

If you cannot or do not want to contact these people, contact the Samaritans on 116 123. You can call them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Alternatively, visit the Samaritans website or email jo@samaritans.org.

Self-harm

Self-harm is often a symptom of mental health problems like bipolar disorder.

For some people, self-harm is a way of gaining control over their lives or temporarily distracting themselves from mental distress.

It may not be related to suicide or attempted suicide.

Want to know more? 

Recommended communities

Online communities help you talk to people, share your experiences and learn from others.

The SANE Support Forum allows people to share their feelings and provide mutual support for anyone with mental health issues, as well as their friends and family.

Bipolar UK, a national charity, also runs an online discussion forum for people with bipolar disorder, their families and carers.

Page last reviewed: 13/03/2019
Next review due: 13/03/2022