This is an extract from the book Bipolar Disorder – The Ultimate Guide by Sarah Owen and Amanda Saunders (Oneworld Publications)

Managing bipolar at university  

Deciding where to apply

Anyone who’s deciding which universities or colleges to apply for is likely to take into account the courses, the locations and typical grade offers. If you have a diagnosis of bipolar, you also might want to consider:

  • the university’s well-being/student satisfaction rankings – every year Times Higher Education runs a ‘Student Experience Survey’ to rank things like ‘campus environment’, ‘student union’, ‘sport’, ‘social facilities’ and ‘sense of community’
  • which well-being support services are available – have a look at individual services online or drop into Student Services if you’re visiting on Open Day

Deciding what to say on your UCAS form 

Everyone who applies for one of the 380 universities or colleges across the UK has to fill out an online UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) form. You can find this at

Alongside all the questions about where you live, your GCSE results and predicted A level/BTEC grades, there’s a disability/special needs section where you’re asked whether or not you have a mental health condition. If you tick the box, your course provider is legally required to make reasonable adjustments aht take account of your needs. 

You can also decide whether or not to mention your diagnosis in your personal statement – to explain why you’ve had time off school or college, or to explain lower than predicted grades, for example.

“My son’s teacher advised him not to mention his diagnosis of bipolar in his UCAS personal statement, but my son felt strongly that he wanted to say in one sentence why he’d had to retake a year of college. His mother and I supported his decision, but we were a bit fearful that the universities might discriminate. He got four offers from all four universities he applied to in the end, so our fears were unwarranted. I feel proud of him for having had the courage to ignore that teacher’s advice and relieved that having bipolar hasn’t stopped him moving forward in life.” (Juan)

Getting ready for university

The summer before university is a brilliant time to develop some good lifelong habits to help you stay well with bipolar – like remembering to take your medication and going for annual physical check-ups without your parents reminding your, for example.

So that you know where to find support if you need it, why not spend some time finding out which well-being services are available? Depending on the university you’re going to, there may be:

  • a well-being officer at the Students’ Union
  • mental health advisors
  • a free counselling service
  • a university health centre with a GP service
  • drop-in clinics
  • student-run helplines
  • well-being groups
  • relaxation/stress-relieving activities, such as mindfulness sessions.

And don’t forget your personal tutor and hall tutor/manager (if you’re living in a hall of residence) are usually your first points of contact for any academic, personal or health-related problems.

6 things to do when you get to university

  1. Set reminders to take your medication

    *Download an app on your phone.
    *Put your medication where you’ll see it – next to your hairbrush on your bedside table, or next to your box of cereal on the kitchen worktop, for example
    *If you’re likely to get back late after a night out, plan in advance how you’ll remember to take your medication. Could you leave a note on your pillow? Or ask a friend to remind you?

  2. Register with a new GP

    This may be at the university health centre, if there’s one, or in your local area. Your university should help you sign up with a new GP, or find your nearest GP practice via NHS Choices. It doesn’t take long and your medical records will be transferred, so your new GP will be able to read all about your condition, current prescription and medical and family history.

  3. Tell your new friends/housemates

    You don’t need to call an intense house meeting or anything, but when the time feels right, it’s a good idea to tell your new housemates you have bipolar. You could explain what they should do or who they should call if they spot any symptoms. If you feel embarrassed about telling them, remember that a survey a few years ago found that one in eight students have a mental health condition – and people are sharing more openly all the time. You are not alone!

  4. Get organised with your prescriptions

    As soon as you turn 19 you need to pay for prescriptions. If you need more than one prescription a month, it might be cheaper to get a Pre-Payment Certificate. Some students are also eligible for the NHS Low Income Scheme – ask your GP or university welfare team about the ‘NHS HC1 claim form’. You can get lots more helpful info from:

    *Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity

    *The University Mental Health Advisors Network, a network of mental health specialists working in higher education

  5. See if there’s a Bipolar UK Peer Support group in your new area

    Peer support group meetings are open to anyone who’s affected by bipolar, with or without a diagnosis. Some meetings are held in person, others are online. The meetings are led by co-facilitators, who are trained volunteers who affected by bipolar in some way. Usually people attending will begin by sharing what their mood is like using the Bipolar UK mood scale.  Then facilitators may invite people to suggest particular topics they would like to talk about. Some groups invite external speakers.

  6. Get organised with your finances

    Make a budget and challenge yourself to stick to it. If your overdraft does spiral out of control, you can get free, personalised support from:


    *StepChange Debt Charity 

    *Money and Mental Health Policy Institute