Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Someone’s Ability to Learn?

Author: Stan Clark

Stanley Clark is a community development volunteer and writer. He had worked on several commercials, events, and campaigns before writing full-time. He’s passionate about helping people and communities with their health and wellness concerns.

Everyone has difficulty concentrating sometimes. Living in the digital age and under high-stress situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, makes it hard to focus on one task.

It is no wonder many people are looking for alternatives, like the best essential oils for concentration and focus.

For people with bipolar disorder though, concentration problems run much deeper. Difficulty concentrating may significantly affect their learning ability.

Driven to Distraction by Mood Swings

Distractibility or lack of concentration is a usual bipolar disorder symptom(1). It is prominent during manic and depressive episodes.

Persistent difficulties in concentrating can make it harder to function in everyday life, especially when studying.

Other symptoms of mania may also contribute to an inability to concentrate. Such symptoms include racing thoughts, increased energy or agitation, and a decreased need for sleep(2).

Meanwhile, individuals with bipolar disorder going through a low, depressive slump may display a lack of energy, sleep, and interest in nearly all activities(3).

Poor sleep quality and trouble sleeping are common symptoms of people with the condition(4).

Sleep deprivation may further exacerbate attention problems and impair long-term memory, making it more challenging for individuals with the disorder to study and take in new information(5).

Lack of sleep may also make those with bipolar disorder more vulnerable to stress(6). In turn, chronic stress may cause concentration problems, memory impairment, and mood swings.

Mood, Memory, and Learning

Going from a manic high down to a depressive slump (and vice versa) means undergoing changes in alertness, mental processing, behavior, and mood.

These factors can greatly affect one’s willingness to learn and ability to take in new information.

Emotion and mood can strongly influence attention, perception, memory, reasoning, and problem-solving skills(7).

Studies show that bipolar disorder mood swings or episodes may affect working memory processes, mainly updating memory and serial recall(8).

Researchers also noted that individuals with the condition may have poorer cognitive performance even after episode symptoms have subsided(9).

Another study showed that cognitive decline may be linked with mood disorders. In particular, the findings noted that people with more depressive symptoms exhibited greater cognitive decline(10).

Early diagnoses, symptom management, and proper medical treatment may help minimize the effects of bipolar disorder symptoms on one’s learning ability.

Combating Concentrating Difficulties

Properly managing the symptoms of major depressive or manic episodes and mood shifts of individuals with bipolar disorder may improve their stress response, concentration, and learning ability.

Below are some tips that may help people with the disorder manage their symptoms and overcome difficulties in learning:

  • Learn and apply relaxation techniques. These techniques include yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and aromatherapy.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. Drinking alcohol and taking nonprescription drugs may lessen the effectiveness of bipolar medications and worsen mood shifts.
  • Establish a routine. Having a daily routine, complete with sleep and mealtimes, can lessen the stress people with bipolar disorder may get from lack of nutrition and sleep.
  • Take advantage of technology. Students with difficulty concentrating can use their phones and other devices to record lectures. They can listen to these recordings when they are in a more receptive mood.

Students with bipolar disorder can seek help from friends, family, and school administrators. These people can help students overcome their concentration and learning difficulties.

Teachers who know and understand the difficulties of bipolar episodes can help ease the strain in studying by ensuring a positive and flexible learning environment for their students.


  1. Mayo Clinic. (2021, Feb. 16). Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Alhola, P., & Polo-Kantola, P. (2007). Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 3(5), 553–567.
  6. Harvard Medical School. (2008, Dec. 15). Sleep and Mood. Division of Sleep Medicine. Retrieved from
  7. Tyng, C. M., Amin, H. U., Saad, M., & Malik, A. S. (2017). The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1454.
  8. Soraggi-Frez, C., Santos, F. H., Albuquerque, P. B., & Malloy-Diniz, L. F. (2017). Disentangling Working Memory Functioning in Mood States of Bipolar Disorder: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 574.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Marvel, C. L., & Paradiso, S. (2004). Cognitive and neurological impairment in mood disorders. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 27(1), 19–viii.




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