How to Manage College With Bipolar Disorder

Author: Stan Clark

The transition from being a senior in high school to being a freshman in college is truly an exciting moment. For many, it’s not only their first extended time away from home but also their first big step towards adulthood.

Entering college marks a new chapter in one’s life. Significant transitions like that can be challenging, and it can even be more complicated with a bipolar diagnosis. However, with lifestyle changes and plenty of support, one can manage such an illness.

What Is a Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder or manic depression involves severe highs and lows and drastic changes in one’s mood. During manic states, people diagnosed with such an illness can feel overly ecstatic, which often results in impulsive decision-making. About half of people during a manic episode also experience delusions or hallucinations(1).

Many individuals with bipolar disorder also feel extreme sadness during a depressive episode. Some people feel sluggish and anxious, while others have suicidal thoughts(2).

According to research, most mental health disorders have their peak onset during young adulthood. Researchers observed that by the age of 25 years old, about 75% of those who will have a mental health disorder already had their first onset(3).

The average onset of bipolar disorder usually occurs in the same period where a young adult may be heading off to college. In most people, it’s the age before 25(4). However, in some cases, the onset may occur earlier, presenting in childhood(5).

During adolescence, the structure of the brain goes through significant changes. The frontal lobe development and the rearrangement of neuroreceptors set the stage for mental illness to emerge(6).

According to Dr. Stanley P. Kutcher, environmental influences also trigger bipolar disorder. Poor sleeping patterns and the use of brain-altering substances, such as cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol, are the usual things that throw the switch on.


How Bipolar Disorder Affects College Students

Bipolar disorder is a life-long illness. It can pose significant social, learning, and health challenges for college students. Below are some of the things individuals diagnosed with bipolar commonly face:

Medication Interference

Individuals with bipolar disorder manage their condition with consistent medication. However, many mood stabilizers have side effects, such as digestive issues, weight gain, and sedation(7). These problems may hinder the ability of a person to focus.

Stress Triggers

Chronic stress contributes to the development of the bipolar disorder(8). This severe type of stress is dull and seemingly never-ending. It often arises in response to situations beyond a person’s control, such as toxic relationships or the sudden death of a loved one(9).

Impulsive Behavior

Manic symptoms and episodes may impair behavioral and emotional regulation. Impulsivity may cause students to skip classes, join risky activities, and neglect medication.

Managing Bipolar Disorder in College Students

Counseling Centers

Most college counselors often give talk therapy to students suffering from emotional distress. These advisers may help students cope with trauma, depression, and stress. They may also refer students to psychiatrists as needed.

Support Groups and Campus Advocacy

On most campuses, mental health support groups allow students struggling with mental illnesses to share their experiences safely. Students diagnosed with bipolar disorder may also get support from individuals experiencing the same thing.

College fuels people’s desire to learn more about themselves by helping them navigate the gray areas in their lives. Education doesn’t stop after the bell rings.

Students get to explore, meet new people, experience different cultures, and unleash their hidden creativity inside and outside the campus. Mental conditions, like bipolar disorder, can be managed so that students living with these ailments can still experience the joys of starting their college life.



1. Bipolar Disorder

2. Bipolar Disorder

3. Age of onset of mental disorders: a review of recent literature

4. Late-onset Bipolar I Disorder

5. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication

6. The Science of Brain and Biological Development: Implications for Mental Health Research, Practice and Policy

7. Managing the side effects associated with commonly used treatments for bipolar depression

8. Chronic stressors and trauma: prospective influences on the course of bipolar disorder

9. Chronic stressors and trauma: prospective influences on the course of bipolar disorder



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