Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition and there is no prospect of a cure in the near future. It is particularly tragic, as having the condition increases the risk of suicide by 20 times, with an estimated 3 people with bipolar taking their own lives every day.

What makes this number so stark is that none of these suicides are inevitable. With the right treatment and support, people can live well with bipolar, in fact hundreds of thousands of people with the condition hold down challenging and rewarding careers, in a whole variety of sectors and professions.

Like all long-term conditions it requires effective management to keep on top. Alongside medication, there are practical steps that people with bipolar can take to stay well. Collectively these are often called a self-management strategy or self-care plan and include a variety of non-medical approaches to staying well.

Self-management is different for each person, as everyone has their own physiology and history. It will though usually involve a combination of regular exercise and sleep, a diet that moderates alcohol and caffeine consumption and a good network of friends and family who can provide support when someone becomes unwell. A key tool in self-management is the Mood Scale and Mood Diary which enable people to track their mood over time and become aware of episodes of mania and depression, as they develop and take steps to moderate them.

Despite most of these steps being entirely free and sensible approaches to daily living for everyone, few people with bipolar are told about them when they’re diagnosed. Recent research by Bipolar UK found that 67.23% of people with the condition received no self-management advice when they were first diagnosed. Imagine being diagnosed with lung cancer or Type 2 diabetes and not receiving any advice or support. Keeping people with bipolar in the dark about self-management is setting them up to fail and worse, suicide.

A third of respondents to our survey said that the lack of information on self-management resulted in prolonged episodes of illness and relapses – taking up more NHS time and resources, but more importantly leading to untold suffering for people living with the condition and those around them.

This lack of basic signposting and knowledge is also compounded by the social stigma that still surrounds the condition. Many people with bipolar, including those self-managing effectively, are reluctant to talk about it for fear of being judged or missing out on opportunities, especially in their careers. When surveyed about telling their employers about a diagnosis, approximately 90% said they had told them but that 24% had regretted making that decision. A number of these people felt they had been managed out or missed out on promotions. Given the risk of telling someone about a diagnosis this sense of privacy is entirely understandable.

The result though is that, despite 1 in 50 people having bipolar, 72% of people with bipolar knew no one else with the condition when they were first diagnosed. This meant that alongside a lack of formal advice, there also wasn’t an informal route of learning directly from others with the condition available.

Bipolar UK is seeking to fix these two area issues through providing first class self-management information on its website and providing peer support services like our eCommunity to bring people affected by bipolar together. The latter provides a safe space to share experiences and approaches to self-management and provide moral support and encouragement on what can be a very lonely journey. We reach out to empower around 2,000 people a month and over 280,000 people use our website every year.

It is possible to live well with bipolar and to achieve your potential. By working together we can make that possible for everyone.

You can read our self-management survey results here survey.pdf