PhD and Mental Illness


I'm in my second year of a PhD and am in the process of getting diagnosed with bipolar. I have had issues with my mood since mid teens but the last 18 months I have spent very little time when i have not been hypomanic or depressed, understandably it is making my PhD more challenging. I'm looking for others that are doing postgraduate courses with mental illness, I have friends that are doing PhD's and I know people (online mostly) with mental health issues but not really any that understand the combination of the two. Feeling rather lost and alone with it all to be honest. Bewildered by constantly trying to make the right decisions for my health and my research when the two things are often contradictory.


Hi thumbelina!

I finished my PhD a couple of years ago and don't come on the forum much now, but dropped by today and saw your post. I also have bipolar disorder and have battled with it for 15 years now, trying new medications, having ECT, and have been admitted to hospital lots of times sure makes life more complicated.

I think the best source of support when I was doing my PhD was student services- I saw a counsellor there twice per week and also a mental health advisor if I was struggling (on top of the usual NHS care). If you're not getting this support already it might be worth checking out the services where you are. Does your sup know about your difficulties? Mine did and she was pretty good about it.

I am still in research- on my second post-doc now, and am doing fairly well at the moment. It's tough, and my general approach is to be quite open with my managers about my condition, and ask for flexibility if required, and so far that has worked okay. Research can be stressful (which isn't too good for bipolar) but the plus side is it can be quite flexible too- I am able to adjust my hours, work from home etc if I want to. I am in psychology anyway so I suppose you would expect people to be reasonably understanding.

I don't know what field you're in, but one thing I would say is to steer clear of anything too close to home. My last post-doc was in a bipolar disorder research centre and it was awful- the most frustrating experience of my life and it made me quite poorly as well. I eventually quit that post a few months back and have started a new post-doc now at a different uni which is soooo much better for my health!

The only other thing- your bipolar will in some ways make you better at what you do. Hard to believe that sometimes (especially for a pessimist like me!), but it will give you qualities that other people will never have, and that will be valuable and your personal and professional life.

PM me if you want to ask anything! Head up chick ;)


Hi Thumbelina,

Firstly I would like to commend and thank you for posting and secondly wish you all the best.

I am in my first year of a PhD, and I have a diagnosis of Bi-Polar . If you would like I would be very happy to chat with you, if you drop me a PM I will get back to you


. I am in psychology anyway so I suppose you would expect people to be reasonably understanding.

I am also in Psychology, and I am surprised sometimes how little understanding they have about mental health and its effects. During my undergraduate degree, again psychology, some of the lecturers were very unforgiving when I was experiencing difficulties.


Its good to know I'm not alone, thank you for your replies.

Keenbean, I'm seeing the student services, the early intervention team and my gp, the combination of which gives me as well rounded support package. I have been honest with my supervisors and I had a 4 month leave of absence last year due to a depressive episode. They have been really good with me, one of them is the departments disability officer so he's pretty clued up on what support is available and what reasonable adjustments can be made.

I'm doing a chemistry PhD which has caused issues, prior to and for a short period after my LOA I was removed from any practical work mostly due to poor concentration. Just recently I took myself out of the lab for a couple of weeks due to elevated mood and the risk of causing damage to the very expensive equipment I use. I'm really missing continuity at the moment, its really frustrating to have ideas of things to do but knowing its not necessarily safe for me to do them.

Thanks for the offer of a chat MDF, I shall take you up on that.


Hello thumbelina!

I'm glad you've already brought this up with your university.

I don't have bipolar but I'm struggling with a chronic impairment myself. I found what really helped was just being able to talk to people about it, or read about how others have coped with it. I had a good idea of what I could do to help me through my situation (from the help services or just reading up about it online), but I just needed some company. It's generally hard to find such company in real life, but there's a lot of it online (here, for example).

I suggest you use the search function in these other PhD forums to see how others have dealt with such challenges. You'll find your (our) struggles aren't that uncommon, and we aren't alone. Most of the posters in these forums are in the US, but that doesn't really make a difference.

Good luck!