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Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health problem that mainly affects a person’s mood.

Everyone has different moods but people with bipolar disorder experience mood changes that can be very distressing and have a big impact on their life. They may feel extreme highs and extreme lows, and the changes can feel overwhelming to somebody living with this illness and to the people around them.

In the past bipolar disorder was referred to as manic depression.

How they might feel

Bipolar disorder is characterised by extreme highs called mania and extreme low mood and depression.

If someone has bipolar disorder and is experiencing a manic episode they may:

  • Feel happy, euphoric or have a sense of wellbeing.
  • Feel excited like they can’t get their words out fast enough..
  • Feel irritable and agitated.
  • Have increased sexual energy.
  • Be easily distracted with racing thoughts, or unable to concentrate.
  • Feel very confident or adventurous.
  • Feel invincible.
  • Feel more productive.

If someone has bipolar disorder and is experiencing a depressive episode they may:

  • Feel down, upset or tearful.
  • Feel tired or sluggish.
  • Have no interest or enjoyment in things.
  • Lack confidence or have low self esteem.
  • Feel guilty, worthless or hopeless.

Things you might observe

Manic episode

  • Speaking a lot, very quickly and not making sense to others.
  • Saying or doing things that are inappropriate or out of character.
  • Misusing drugs or alcohol.
  • Spending money excessively.
  • Taking risks.

Depressive episode

  • Not doing things they normally enjoy.
  • Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • Avoiding people.
  • Being tearful or distressed.
  • Self-harming or attempting suicide.

Mixed episodes

Mixed episodes are when people experience symptoms of depression and mania at the same time. This can be confusing for people experiencing this, more exhausting and difficult to identify what support they need.

Psychotic symptoms

Not everyone with bipolar disorder experiences psychosis, but many do. It is more common during manic episodes but can happen during depressive episode. Symptoms include delusions such as paranoia, and hallucinations such as hearing voices.

In this video, Wellbeing and Counselling Manager Faye Walters explains some common signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder and discusses how tutors can support students who may have been diagnosed with this condition.

If a student requires support but is not at immediate risk:

  • If the student discloses they have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, discuss how they are managing the condition and if they feel they need any support.
  • Consider any practical support you can offer the student to support them on their course if they are finding it challenging.
  • Ask the student if they have a care plan or any other mental health support in place.
  • If the condition they are experiencing has led them to unhealthy coping habits such as drinking excessively, taking drugs or self-harm refer to one of our specific toolkits for ways to support them.
  • If the student requires referral for specific issues, for example, they are struggling with money worries, have an accommodation issue or their issues are complex, then consider the routes in the ‘How to Refer’ section. Seek the student’s consent to refer and explain that they can also self-refer to Student Services.
  • If the student feels they are struggling to manage their condition recommend the student makes an appointment with their GP. If the student is not registered with a GP provide them with information on how to register with a GP and refer them to the Wellbeing team.
  • Make sure the student is aware of how to contact the Wellbeing team and what they should do if at any point they feel they cannot keep themselves safe.
  • Be aware that students with bipolar disorder may be considered to have a disability and therefore reasonable adjustments, such as exam modifications, might be a legal requirement. If you believe this might be the case, then contact the Inclusion team for advice and guidance on  as to how you should implement them.
  • Don’t assume a student who is experiencing mood swings is suffering from bipolar disorder.
  • Don’t try to support the student yourself if they are struggling to manage their condition they will require specialist support.
  • Don’t promise confidentiality.

Refer a student if:

  • You feel you can no longer provide practical advice or support to the student.
  • You feel the student requires more specialist support.
  • You feel the student is at immediate risk to themselves or others.

If you believe the student is an imminent risk to themselves or others, ideally do not let them leave your office or teaching room. Contact the Catalyst Helpdesk on 01695 650800 and ask them to put you through to the Duty Wellbeing Adviser in Student Services. If it is out of hours, contact Campus Support on extension 01695 584227.

If a student is an immediate risk to themselves, you do not need the consent of the student to contact Student Services.

If a student is not at immediate risk to themselves but requires specialist support, you must obtain their consent to refer them to any of the following services as appropriate:

Team NameSupport OfferedContact Details
Academic RegistryProvide advice on and processing of course changes: transferring course/university, repeating a year, module changes, changing mode of study, appeals.[email protected]

01695 584803
Accommodation teamProvide advice/guidance about accommodation both on and off campus, including hall fee queries.[email protected]

01695 650800
Campus LifeEnsure that students live in a safe/secure environment on campus. Promote and organise events to help students make the most of their time here and administrate the Disciplinary Regulations.[email protected]

01695 657570
Campus SupportProvides 24/7 support and security on campus.01695 584227
CareersProvide advice and support with career planning, job hunting, CV writing, volunteering and maximising work experience[email protected]

01695 650800
ChaplaincyProvides both staff and students of all faiths and none with pastoral support. Activities/events focus on friendship, community, support and faith.[email protected]

01695 650800
Counselling (assessed through the Wellbeing team)Referral always via the Wellbeing team. Also provide group workshops and 1:1 therapeutic support to help students find solutions to issues they are facing.[email protected]

01695 650988
Disability and InclusionProvide advice and support for students with physical/sensory/mental health, autism spectrum disorders or other additional needs. Also provide advice and guidance on reasonable adjustments and support available. Support for specific learning needs – including dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD can be found via the Library and Learning Services SpLD team.[email protected]

01695 657568

[email protected]

01695 650800

Law clinicProvide a free clinic to all staff and students run by Year 3 law students who can advise on legal questions or difficulties such as support with housing contract and employment law for example.Law Clinic
Money AdviceProvide advice on all money-related matters including student funding, budgeting, and the Student Support Fund.[email protected]

01695 650800
Students’ UnionProvides representation for students and promotes and hosts activities/events. Provides advice and support to students on various issues including academic, housing, and money.[email protected]

01695 657327
Student Support TeamTargeted support for Care Experienced and Estranged Students (CEES). Advice and support for all students who are thinking of leaving or at risk of withdrawing or being withdrawn.
[email protected]

01695 650800
Wellbeing teamFirst contact for mental health concerns. Practical advice, support and signposting for any issue impacting on a student’s wellbeing.[email protected]

01695 650988

Students can self-refer to all of the above services and arrange appointments via the Catalyst Helpdesk.

Useful links and information

For more information about bipolar disorder, follow the links below.



Student Minds

Young Minds


Support and self-help resources for students
Staff training at Edge Hill University
Staff E-learning resources
Back to the mental health toolkit homepage