Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the UK. In May we conducted a survey to find out what impact it’s had on people affected by bipolar – including family and friends. We worked with a number of universities and people with lived experience to draft up the survey, which covered a range of topics from people’s experience of Covid-19 itself, to mood and access to services during lockdown.

We are blown away by the response – we have received over 1,700 responses in two weeks! Preliminary results show that, perhaps as might be expected, many people with the condition are struggling due to the stress, uncertainty and isolation of lockdown. 67% of people reported their mood was more unpredictable since mid-March, with the number experiencing feelings of panic and anxiety more than doubling.  

As we all know, sleep is a crucial trigger for people with the condition so it’s concerning that 65% of people said they were finding it harder to sleep than usual. 

The report also reveals that, while their bipolar symptoms have worsened, people have been having more difficulty getting help from health services. Of those respondents who accessed such services before the lockdown, over 60% said post-Covid they had found it harder to access a GP or psychiatrist; with nearly half the sample (48%) saying it was harder to reach a Crisis Team for urgent help.

Across the sample 65% reported experiencing depressive symptoms since the onset of the crisis, ranging from slight withdrawal to recurring thoughts of suicide. The number of people reporting feelings of panic and anxiety doubled post-lockdown from 13% to 26%.

“Having Bipolar in these times is more difficult than ever! My head’s spinning around constantly trying to keep track of what and how to do everything. If this is stressing people in general, then imagine how it’s affecting people who already struggle daily!” [Female, 72]

Fear of the virus itself is one of the key drivers of this deteriorating picture with almost half of respondents (49%) telling Bipolar UK that they or a close friend and family catching Covid-19 was what they were most fearful of. This compares to 22% who were most worried about relapsing (experiencing a severe manic or depressive episode), 16% worried about the financial impact and 13% worried about the wider impact on the world.

Respondent were also keen on the lockdown with 59% telling Bipolar UK that they wanted it to continue, 27% that they wanted lighter restrictions and only 15% saying they needed much greater freedom.

The plunge in mood and increase in anxiety so many people with bipolar seem to be suffering is made more dangerous because the crisis has made it more difficult for them to access help from health services.

“These results show that people with bipolar are suffering considerably more than the mentally well and they’re not receiving the help from services that they need because the focus of health services has been on combating the virus. Bipolar disorder has the highest rate of suicide of any mental illness – 20 times higher than the general population – so we are very worried about the safety of many of our members”.

Bipolar UK CEO Simon Kitchen said: “We’re grateful that so many people in our community took the time to complete this survey. It’s a very important tool to tell us how people with bipolar are coping in the current crisis and where best to focus our limited resources to help them as much as we possibly can”.

The full results of the survey are available to download here. The information will be used to inform our own service development, and will be also fed into the government, to inform their decision-making on the lockdowns. It will help policymakers and funders understand the scale of the challenge facing our community and ensure that we aren’t forgotten about.