How to Navigate College as a Student with Bipolar Disorder

College can be daunting for new students. For many young adults, college is the first time they will be living on their own and taking care of themselves.

When coupling self-care with a rigorous academic regimen and robust social life, students can certainly find college to be a hard time.

College life is even more challenging for those students who are disabled or live with a mental health disorder. As an example, students with bipolar disorder can often experience inordinate amounts of stress from college life as a result of their mental illness.

According to the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) there are 5.7 million Americans aged 18 and older who meet the criteria for bipolar disorder. And, among all college students in the United States, 3.2% of students experience symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Effects of Bipolar Disorder on College Life

Bipolar disorder can have many significant effects on your life choices and in your relationships, especially when the challenges that come along with college life come into play.

Bipolar disorder may impact college students in particular in some of the following ways:

  • Endless amounts of energy. When in a manic or hypomanic phase, students with bipolar disorder may exhibit seemingly unlimited amounts of energy. This can be quite problematic when students struggle to sleep or act impulsively.
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks. Whether a bipolar student is experiencing a manic or depressive episode, they can find learning very difficult. It is hard to focus when your mind races or stays stagnant.
  • Poor impulse control. When bipolar students have trouble managing their impulses, they can find themselves in trouble or make poor decisions. Instead of attending class or studying, a bipolar student may be tempted to enter situations in which they engage in risky behaviors (substance use, unprotected sex, etc.).
  • Insomnia when experiencing a depressive episode. When students do not get enough sleep, their learning is significantly impaired. Depressive episodes and manic episodes alike can impact sleep, but insomnia during depressive episodes can make students feel especially low-energy and lack motivation.

Managing Bipolar Disorder in College

Though bipolar disorder can undoubtedly make college more difficult, it doesn’t have to make things feel impossible. Bipolar disorder is very treatable.

Below are some beneficial tips to keep in mind as you work your way through postsecondary education and into your professional life:

  • Stay away from drugs and avoid alcohol. While there may be temptation to drink excessively with friends or try a drug, it is wise to simply avoid these substances. While illegal drug use can have negative implications on your health and may land you in trouble with the law, it can also adversely affect any medications you take for your bipolar disorder. The same goes for alcohol use as well.
  • Be organized and develop a routine. By keeping yourself organized, regular, and busy, you can help eliminate many of the stressors that often worsen bipolar symptoms.
  • Find friends and professors who will support you. Having people to talk with and look out for you can be beneficial for anyone, and it is especially helpful for students with bipolar disorder.
  • Make sure to rest and relax. Be sure to get adequate sleep and find time for things you enjoy. You need to give yourself a break every once in a while.
  • Stick to a healthy, balanced diet. Unhealthy foods can negatively impact your mental state. Try to avoid junk food and aim for a diet full of nutrients instead.
  • Don’t hesitate to seek professional help as necessary. If you are finding it difficult to manage your disorder on your own, it may be appropriate to pursue treatment. Universities offer on-campus mental health resources and there are often therapists located off-campus in the community. Additionally, you can engage in counseling sessions online via Zoom or Skype.

College can be a difficult adjustment, especially for those experiencing bipolar disorder. Fortunately, with the right tools and techniques, it’s entirely doable to navigate postsecondary education and have the experience you desire.

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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