Thriving with bipolar disorder

Alice Lam
4 min readApr 12, 2020


Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

First published in Bipolar Life’s newsletter in February 2020

It is so important to remember that you are not defined by your illness. Though bipolar disorder is thought to be biological in origin, with changes in genes accounting for maybe 60–70% of BPAD [1], it is also believed that the other factors are environmental, meaning there is so much that you can do to get better and stay well.

Making use of the medical model

The medical model emphasises regular monitoring, medications and psychotherapy to treat the condition in the acute and maintenance phase. Side effects such as weight gain or tremor from medications may need to be addressed in a collaborative manner with your doctor. Regular testing for medication levels, organ health (like kidney and liver function, cholesterol and sugar may also be necessary, especially as it has been found that there are higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in people with bipolar disorder [1].

Your team may include a psychiatrist, GP, psychologist, dietician, exercise physiologist and more. It’s important to find the right health care professionals so that you can feel comfortable and confident working with them towards your health goals. This article [2] might help you with some ideas on what to look for in your healthcare provider.

In addition to talking therapy with your psychiatrist and one-to-one sessions with a psychologist, therapy may be available in the form of inpatient or outpatient group programs. Depending on where you live in relation to public and private psychiatric facilities, available programs might include: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness, Schema therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Interpersonal therapy, Art and Music therapy to name a few. Many people have found such courses invaluable, not just because they are taught in a kind, supportive environment but also because the benefits of these tools can last a lifetime. Ask your psychiatrist about these if you are interested.

You can also speak to your GP about the following Care Plans, which can help eligible persons with allied health costs:

- GP Mental Health Care Plan — you can read more on this here [3].
- GP Management Plan — you can read more on this here [4].

Bringing in a wellness and recovery focus

A more person-centred, holistic approach complements your other treatments by strongly encouraging appropriate lifestyle modifications and personal strategies.

Some of these personal stories [5] on the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) website by people with lived experience of bipolar disorder may inspire you further on your own journey. Here are some of their experiences:

- Enjoying a safe space to share stories and be more open about the condition
- Feeling it was cathartic to be able to speak about the condition
- Feeling they were not helpless or worthless
- Being able to share both the struggles and the journey
- Being able to celebrate small successes to build strength and hope
- Finding it helpful to learn about topics such as self-management, new research etc.

Remember you are not alone — a helpful exercise might be to write down the people who are in your support network. This might include a partner, peers from a local group (or online forum), friends, family, doctor or psychologist. These people can offer not only a listening ear but can also help you reach your goals.

Dr.Holly Swartz, Professor of Psychiatry at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, U.S.A. highly recommends optimising lifestyle factors given bipolar disorder doubles the rate of cardiovascular disease and medications exacerbate it. Healthy schedules, routine and sleep are all therefore needed to support bipolar disorder recovery and to achieve goals [6].

The Quality of Life Tool (QoL) tool [7] was produced by The Collaborative RESearch Team to study psychosocial issues in Bipolar Disorder. It is a free online resource for a user to intermittently fill in a simple questionnaire where they can rate satisfaction levels for energy, mood, sleep, work, money, relationships and other domains. The tool then displays the data as a graph and table where the user can easily see where they’ve progressed, and where they might want to focus more attention.

You can find some tips in our October [8] newsletter on Routine, Goal Setting and Values and the DBSA has some useful information here too [9].


  1. Fink, C. and Kraynak, J., 2016. Bipolar Disorder for Dummies. 3rd ed. New Jersey,
    John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  2. Dr Alice Lam, GP & Health Writer. 2020. How To Get The Best Out Of Your GP. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2020].
  3. healthdirect. 2020. Mental health care plan. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2020].
  4. The Department of Health. 2020. Chronic Disease Management Patient Information. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2020].
  5. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 2020. Videos. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2020].
  6. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 2020. Videos: Thriving with Bipolar — Treatment plans and collaborating with your doctor. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2020].
  7. CREST.BD. 2020. CREST.BD Quality of Life Tool. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2020].
    BipolarLife. 2020. Newsletter — October 2019. [ONLINE] Available at:
  8. [Accessed 17 January 2020].
  9. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 2020. Setting & Achieving Goals. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2020].

#bipolar #mentalhealth #bipolardisorder @finkshrink @DBSAlliance @CREST_BD



Alice Lam

I’m a doctor but my real love is writing and beta reading/critique work. I’ve been published in anthologies. Free stories and more at