Living with - Bipolar disorder

Effective treatments and self-help techniques can limit the impact of bipolar disorder on your everyday life.

Staying active and eating well

Eating well and keeping fit are important for everyone. Exercise can also help reduce the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

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

Medical treatments for bipolar disorder can cause weight gain and other side effects.

Eating a healthy diet and doing regular exercise can help limit:

  • weight gain
  • the risk of developing diabetes, or making it worse if you already have it

Have a check-up at least once a year. This will monitor your risk of developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Your GP will:

  • record your weight
  • check your blood pressure
  • do blood tests if you need them

Learn more about healthy eating and keeping active

Self-care and self-management

Self-care

Self-care is an essential part of daily life. It means taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing. You do this with support from those involved in your care.

It includes:

  • staying fit and maintaining good physical and mental health
  • preventing illness or accidents
  • caring well for minor illnesses and long-term conditions

Improving your self-care can help you:

  • live longer
  • have less pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue
  • have a better quality of life
  • be more active and independent

Self-management programmes

These aim to help you take an active part in your own recovery, so you're not controlled by your condition.

They can be helpful if you feel distressed and uncertain about the disorder.

Talking about it

You may find it easy to talk to family and friends about your condition and its effects. Or you might find it easier to turn to charities and support groups.

Many organisations run self-help groups. They can put you in touch with other people with the condition. This can help you understand that you're not alone in feeling the way you do. Some organisations also provide online support in forums and blogs.

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

Learn more about talking therapies

Visit Aware.ie for a blog about living with bipolar disorder

Services that can help

A range of services is available to help with bipolar disorder. Your GP can refer you to some of these services. You can get access to others through your local Community Mental Health Team.

Community mental health teams (CMHT)

These provide the main part of local specialist mental health services. They offer assessment and treatment.

Crisis home-based treatment services

These provide treatment at home instead of in a hospital if you have an acute episode. They are run by specialist HSE mental health teams and are free. They can deal with crises that happen 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. The service is free.

Assertive outreach teams

These teams offer intensive treatment and rehabilitation in the community. The teams assign a keyworker to meet the needs of individuals living with severe and constant mental health challenges. They can provide help in a crisis situation or help you to prevent crises from developing.

Keyworkers (mental health nurses, support workers or social care workers) often visit people at home. They also work with other services, such as your GP or social services.

They can also help with practical problems, such as:

  • finding housing and work
  • household tasks and daily activities

Avoiding drugs and alcohol

Some people with bipolar disorder use alcohol or illegal drugs to try to cope with pain and distress. This can cause harm and is not a substitute for effective treatment and good healthcare.

You may have separate but related problems with alcohol and drug use. This may need to be treated separately.

Avoiding alcohol and non-prescribed drugs is important for recovery.

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. The illness may cause them to behave out of character.

Sometimes healthcare professionals or the Gardai may become involved. Relationships and family life are likely to feel the strain.

You may be the closest relative of someone with bipolar disorder. If so, you have rights you can use to protect their interests. Ask mental health services to decide if they should be admitted to hospital involuntarily. This can happen if the person with bipolar disorder cannot identify that there is a problem needing intervention.

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, contact specialist relationship counsellors. They can talk things through with you and your partner.

Mental health supports for carers, family and friends

Dealing with suicidal feelings

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

If you have bipolar disorder, the risk of suicide is 15 to 20 times greater than the general population. As many as 25% to 50% of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once.

The risk of suicide seems to be higher earlier in the illness. Early diagnosis and help can reduce the risk.

It is important to create a crisis plan to prepare for a time of serious suicidal thoughts.

The plan should include contact details for people who can offer support, including your:

  • GP
  • support person - family or friend
  • keyworker
  • community mental health team

Check when all your key contacts are available, including at night and at the weekend. Keep contact details up to date. It’s a good idea to update this plan when reviewing the overall treatment plan.

If you’re feeling suicidal or having severe depressive symptoms contact your GP or keyworker.

Urgent advice: Call 999 or 112 if:

  • you or someone you know is about to harm themselves or someone else

Self-harm

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

For some people, self-harm is a way of gaining control over their lives. It can also be a temporary distraction from mental distress. Repeated self-harm is the single biggest risk factor for suicide.

Learn more about self-harm

Mental health supports and services


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 1 September 2022
Next review due: 1 September 2025