Living With Bipolar Disorder
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2023
Bipolar disorder (BPD) is a challenging condition to live with, both physically and emotionally. Like any lifelong condition, it presents ongoing challenges. The good news is that consistent treatment can decrease the stress and complications that come with mood swings. And it can minimize the disruptions extreme mood swings may create.
Studies show that people with BPD have higher rates of other physical and mental health conditions too. Examples include heart disease, asthma, and anxiety disorders. These co-occurring conditions can make managing BPD even more challenging.1
Despite these challenges, finding support and learning coping strategies can help people living with BPD and those who love them. Along with following your prescribed treatment plan, the actions below can help you live better.
Adopt self-management techniques
People with BPD often find that certain lifestyle changes help reduce the stress that triggers mood swings. Common examples of lifestyle management techniques include:1,2
- Keeping your home calm and quiet
- Sticking to a regular sleep schedule
- Eating healthy meals on a schedule
- Getting regular exercise
- Keeping a mood journal
- Getting out in nature
- Participating in hobbies that help you release tension
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and recreational drugs
Finding a therapist who you can be honest with is also proven to increase quality of life, reduce thoughts of self-harm, and improve overall treatment.1
Join a support group
Many people with BPD and their loved ones find it helpful to join a support group. These groups help people connect with others who understand the unique challenges of the condition. Meetings are available either online or in person. They may be local, regional, or national. Many nonprofits sponsor support groups, so a local nonprofit is a good place to start if you want to join one.1,2
Find financial support and stable housing
BPD can damage a person’s finances if their mood swings are severe during the prime wage-earning years (20s to 50s). Regardless of age, paying for mental health care can get expensive quickly.
Finding financial support can help relieve anxiety around paying for care. Depending on which medicines you take, you may be able to find help paying for your prescriptions. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) maintains a list of drug assistance programs.3
Many people with serious mental health conditions live on federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI). But SSI pays well below the national average income, which can make finding stable housing difficult.4
Your health team or mental health nonprofits like NAMI may be able to help you find housing. Options range from independent apartments to group housing to full-time inpatient care.4
Manage work and school
It can be tricky to disclose your BPD to people at work. Sadly, stigma and discrimination around mental health conditions are common. They may come into play if you need accommodations or a leave of absence from work. But you are legally entitled to reasonable accommodations. Your doctor, therapist, or social worker may be able to help you navigate these work issues.5
If your child has BPD, you may need to work with their school to ensure a healthy learning environment. Public schools are required by law to accommodate students’ special needs. These needs are outlined in documents called IEPs (individual educational plans) and 504 plans.6
Reach out to social workers
Many mental health clinics and associations have social workers on staff. These professionals specialize in helping people find the support they need. They often have deep knowledge of national and local support groups, assistance programs, caregiver resources, and other sources of support. They also may be able to help you file disability claims or accommodation paperwork.1,2
Coping with an unpredictable disease
You may want to tell friends and family about your bipolar diagnosis so they can support you better. For example, they need to know how important regular sleep and avoiding alcohol are for you. Lean on the people who can help you focus on staying as healthy as possible.
Educating yourself and others about your condition also will help you remember to take your medicines and practice self-care. And it will help your loved ones recognize mania or depression when they appear.