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Bipolar disorder

Self-care for bipolar disorder

Coping with bad times

Suicidal thinking is usually only temporary, but it is dangerous to try to cope with it on your own.

Your relapse recovery plan should include information about who to call if you need help, including when your normal doctors are not available.

Steps to surviving depression and suicidal thoughts

  1. Tell someone – your doctor, case manager, relatives, or friends.
  2. Get help – your doctor or case manager can help you manage your emotions. In an emergency you can call your local public mental health crisis assessment team (sometimes called CAT team).
  3. Don’t be alone – try to stay around people and keep active.

More about what to do if you're feeling suicidal

Public mental health crisis assessment teams (sometimes called CAT teams) are trained mental health professionals linked to your local health service. In a crisis, you can call them to speak about your situation, treatment and symptoms.

If necessary, they can visit you or arrange follow-up with your own treatment team.

Ask your case manager for the phone number, and make sure you have it with you.

Learn how to manage your own stress

  • Do something you find relaxing (e.g. go for a walk, cook, watch TV, go swimming).
  • Have a technique for ‘active’ relaxation and use it every day (e.g. meditation, yoga or mindfulness-based practices).
  • Learn some problem-solving techniques (e.g. looking at one problem at a time, brainstorming with someone you trust to find ways to solve the problem).

Understand your warning signs

  • Pay attention to changes in your body and in your thinking.
  • Use a mood diary to help you to keep track of your mood patterns.
  • Tell your mental health team or psychiatrist as soon as possible if you think something is going wrong.
  • Avoid situations that you know trigger mania.
  • Make a plan about how to deal with early signs of relapse. Involve your close friends and family.

Look after your body

  • Having a healthy lifestyle is part of your treatment.
  • Try to keep up healthy eating habits and do regular exercise. Your health-care team can give you advice on how to do this.
  • If you smoke, try to stop. Smoking can interfere with your medications and stop them working properly. There are a range of programs to help people quit, so ask your doctor or case manager about what is available in your local area. Usually people need many attempts before they finally quit, so keep trying.
  • If you use alcohol, drink sensibly. Heavy drinking makes it harder to control your ups and downs. It can make it hard to remember to take your medication and look after your physical health.
  • Avoid illegal drugs. Taking illegal drugs puts you at risk of having an episode of mania or depression, and of being hospitalised. Stimulants such as amphetamines (speed, ice) or ecstasy can bring on severe mania and psychosis.
  • Don’t have too much caffeine.
  • Have a stable sleep pattern, with a regular bed time and wake-up time.

Get the most out of your treatment

  • Try to see the same health-care professionals, if possible. 
  • You are an expert in your own symptoms and experiences. Your doctors are experts in the science and treatment of bipolar disorder. Both types of knowledge are important for managing your bipolar disorder, so you need to talk openly together.
  • Keep taking your medication – don’t skip doses or give up.
  • Attend all of your appointments. You will need to have health check-ups and screening tests to help you look after your physical health.

Involve your family

  • Your partner or family can be an important part of your team. They can help you stay well, and help you make the best choices when you have symptoms.
  • Your mental health professionals should include your partner or family when providing information and making decisions, if you would like them to be involved.

Make a relapse recovery plan

Ask your doctor to help you make a relapse recovery plan.

Your plan should include:

  • early signs of mania or depression
  • stressful situations that might bring on your bipolar symptoms
  • what you can do (e.g. take extra medication, stop drinking alcohol, get enough sleep)
  • who to contact first if you have symptoms
  • when to contact your GP or psychiatrist (e.g. your partner will call your psychiatrist if your symptoms last more than 2 days).

Your plan should be written down and shared with your partner or family and all your health professionals. Your GP could coordinate this.

If you have children, your plan should also include who will look after them and how to organise this. Information on how to a make a family care plan is available from:

Pregnancy and bipolar

If you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, talk to your psychiatrist as soon as possible.

It’s best to be under the care of a psychiatrist while you are pregnant and after your baby is born.

This is because your medications might need to be adjusted to keep you and your baby safe. Also, childbirth is a stressful event, and can bring on bipolar symptoms in some people.

Support groups

Many people find that they benefit from contact with others who also have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Recovery is harder and slower when you are lonely. Self-help groups can help you get support and information.

The friendly support you get from your support group reminds you that you are not alone – other people have mental illnesses and are coping with many of the same problems as you.

Support groups:


Talking to someone is an important part of treatment.

Your case manager and psychiatrist can provide general counselling and support during and after an episode of mania or depression.

Counselling services

Internet and phone apps

Websites designed by experts to help people manage their bipolar disorder include:

If you use an online program, tell your doctor or psychologist, so they can give advice and support to keep it up.

Some of the information about mental health on the internet is not correct or helpful. If you are not sure or can’t find what you are looking for, talk to your health-care team.

Page last reviewed Feb 2017 | C1034V1

This is a general guide only, and does not replace individual medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. The RANZCP is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information. Subject matter experts, people with lived experience of mental illness and carers all contributed to this fact sheet.