People living with bipolar disorder have a shorter life expectancy compared to those without the condition. Lifestyle factors, co-occurring health conditions, and chronic mental health challenges may all play a role.
Bipolar disorders are mental health conditions featuring extreme shifts in activity, mood, and energy levels. Several primary types of bipolar disorder exist, including bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymia.
All types of bipolar disorder involve mood episodes, periods of mania, and neutral or depressed emotional states. Elevated mood episodes are known as mania or hypomania, and times of low mood are referred to as depressive episodes.
Like most lifelong mental health conditions, bipolar disorder can cause significant impairment in daily life. But it may also affect how long a life you live.
Living with bipolar disorder is associated with decreased life expectancy.
According to a 2022 review, pooled life expectancy in bipolar disorder is around 67 years, which is 13 years less than the general population.
Many factors are thought to influence bipolar disorder’s relationship with life expectancy.
According to a 2023 study, bipolar disorder is associated with higher-than-average mortality rates from external causes, such as suicide and accidents, and physical causes, such as heart disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes.
“Bipolar disorder can potentially decrease life expectancy through a large combination of biological [changes], lifestyle [factors], co-occurring medical conditions, and elevated mental health challenges,” explains Tyler Jensen, a licensed clinical mental health counselor from Iowa City, Iowa.
He indicates that, biologically, bipolar disorder is linked with changes such as altered stress hormone levels, immune dysregulation, and brain structure alterations, which may all indirectly affect long-term health.
A 2022 study found that bipolar disorder may also contribute to accelerated biological aging, another factor that could influence reduced lifespan due to natural causes.
When you live with bipolar disorder, any naturally increased risk for co-occurring health conditions can be further complicated by lifestyle choices.
“Lifestyle factors prevalent among individuals with bipolar disorder — such as increased rates of smoking, substance use, poor dietary habits, and a sedentary lifestyle — pose additional risks for chronic illnesses,” Jensen says.
Compounding it all, he adds, are the natural mental health challenges that come from living with bipolar disorder, such as chronic stress, medication side effects, and suicidal ideation.
Brent Metcalf, a licensed clinical social worker from Kingsport, Tennessee, explains that the heightened risk of suicide stems from the intense mood shifts, impulsivity, and hopelessness that often characterize the condition.
You may not be able to control every factor that contributes to life expectancy, but there are ways you can help reduce the risk of premature death.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition that can improve with professional treatment. If left untreated, it can become more severe.
“Staying consistent with medication and therapy is key,” says Jensen. “Medications play a huge role in stabilizing mood swings and preventing any relapses that might occur, while therapy offers valuable strategies for coping with the emotional and psychological aspects of the disorder.”
Keeping on top of physical health
Due to the link between bipolar disorder and physical health challenges, keeping up with your primary doctor is just as important as regular mental health checkups.
“Regular checkups with a primary care physician can detect and manage any underlying physical health issues that may exacerbate bipolar disorder or increase mortality risk,” says Metcalf.
Improving lifestyle habits
Jensen points out that lifestyle habits can have a profound effect on successfully regulating bipolar disorder.
“This includes maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and ensuring sufficient sleep,” he says. “Avoiding harmful substances, such as alcohol and recreational drugs, is also majorly positive in terms of reduction of negative stressors.”
Improving lifestyle habits can have positive effects on both mental and physical health, which may improve life expectancy.
Smoking cessation, for example, has immediate health benefits related to longevity. If you quit smoking at the age of 30 years, you can gain almost
Suicide prevention plan
Suicidal ideation is common in bipolar disorder. A
“Developing a suicide prevention plan with a mental health professional can provide a framework for crisis management and support,” explains Metcalf.
A suicide prevention plan is a written guide that typically includes:
- your personal warning signs or triggers
- individualized coping strategies
- emergency medical contacts
- social support contacts
- a designated “safe space” in your home
Maintaining a support network
Support networks are invaluable when you live with a lifelong condition such as bipolar disorder. Not only can they provide a sense of community and belonging, but they can also help encourage you to work toward lifestyle and treatment goals.
“Having a strong support system of family, friends, and peer support groups can provide both emotional and practical support for the individual dealing with bipolar[disorder],” Jensen says.
Bipolar disorder is associated with reduced life expectancy due to a complex mix of biological, lifestyle, and mental health factors. On average, life expectancy in bipolar disorder is 13 years less than that of the general population.
Although you might not be able to minimize every risk associated with reduced life expectancy, lifestyle improvements, treatment adherence, and social support can all make a difference.
To learn more about bipolar disorder or to find services in your area, support is available 24/7 by calling the SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-4357.
If you’re experiencing thoughts about suicide, help is available any time of day by dialing 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or 911 for local emergency services.