Some students experience their first symptoms of bipolar disorder in college, while others find themselves returning to college after an absence caused by their symptoms. Whatever your circumstances, here are some tips to help you be an effective student:
1. Customize your education: Begin by taking a couple classes at a time, rather than a full load. Consider attending a local school or community college near your support system. Determine if classroom style or online classes would be better for you. Communicate with your teachers about your Bipolar, if possible. Let them know if you are feeling overwhelmed and ask for accommodations. Enlist the support of disability services on campus.
2. Have a study plan: It is important that you set rules for yourself so that you are in control and not your Bipolar. Decide how long you are going to study, then set a timer.
3. Remember to take breaks: Go for a walk, ride your bike, eat lunch outside, or talk with friends (face to face). In addition, I have found it helpful to allow yourself one day of “downtime” each week where you don’t think about schoolwork. You will be able to tolerate more if you take the time to de-stress.
4. Counseling/Therapy: Attend therapy on a regular basis, perhaps weekly. These sessions will allow you to decompress and manage your symptoms. Understand that you may need to meet with a few therapists before you find someone that meets your needs. Many schools offer counseling services as well.
5. Medication: It is important that you take your prescribed medications exactly as directed, as it will be essential to your success as a student. Make sure your psychiatrist knows you are enrolling in classes. It is not uncommon for students to need some fine-tuning of their medications periodically.
6. Establish a support system: This may include healthcare providers, family, friends, classmates, roommates, support groups, or religious organizations. Surround yourself with people who are supportive of your therapy, your goals, and your values. If you are going away to school, find a therapist and psychiatrist right away. It is better to have a support system in place before you experience a crisis.
7. Sleep: Avoid studying before going to bed. Instead, choose a relaxing activity to help with the transition. It may require some good self talk to maintain a regular bed time.
8. Watch for relapse: Stress, illness, and sleep deprivation can trigger your symptoms. Recognize that these things will leave you more vulnerable to depression and irritability. Seek treatment immediately if you feel a shift in your mood.
9. Educate yourself about Bipolar: The more you know about Bipolar the better equipped you will be to manage your symptoms. For example, when I learned that it was common for people to want to stop their medication once they felt better, I was able to recognize this behavior and prevent falling into this trap.
10. Be kind to yourself: Give yourself extra time to complete assignments. Break down tasks into manageable pieces. Set realistic goals for yourself. Recognize your achievements and accentuate the positive. Find humor in every day and remember to have some fun, too!
Hoos, Michelle. “Back to School With Bipolar? How College Can Unleash Mania”. 15 Sep. 2009. http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20304580,00.html
Miller, Bryan. “5 Depression Relapse Triggers to Watch For”. 30 April 2008. http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20189154,00.html?cnn=yes
University of Michigan Depression Center. “Bipolar Disorder in College Students”. http://www.depressiontoolkit.org/bipolar/college.asp
National Alliance on Mental Illness. “NAMI on Campus”. http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=NAMI_on_Campus1