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Bipolar disorder affects about 2.8 percent of the population in the United States, with the average age of diagnosis at 25. Almost 83 percent of people have severe symptoms.

While not everyone with a bipolar disorder experiences depression, the symptoms of mania can last a week or more and include elevated or irritable moods. The time between symptoms can vary, sometimes lasting years without experiencing any symptoms.

If you suspect you may have bipolar disorder, it’s important to get an official diagnosis and treatment from a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.

However, support groups can be an important part of your treatment plan.

Bipolar support groups offer emotional support from other people who understand what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder. They aren’t a substitute for professional care or therapy, but they’re a place to get support and ask questions.

Some groups are run by mental health professionals, but others are led by volunteers who live with bipolar disorder as well.

To select the best bipolar support groups, we looked at privacy, the website’s usability and accessibility, and the education and support each one provides.

We reviewed the type of support group offered, if they’re virtual or in-person, if they’re led by volunteers or licensed professionals, and the cost.

The variety of these support groups allows for options that fit a person’s unique needs.

Best for all-encompassing support

Bphope.com

Bphope.com, a subset of BP Magazine, has won awards for their community-focused mission on empowering people with bipolar disorder, offering hope, and working to increase awareness.

In addition to helping people with bipolar disorder, the group also provides support for family members, caregivers, and healthcare professionals

Bphope.com offers informative articles, blog posts from people living with bipolar disorder (including a section of celebrities with bipolar disorder), and the latest news and research. There is a section for kids that offers information and educational videos.

In the peer support section, users can read articles on bipolar disorder and leave comments and questions for others.

The brand’s Facebook page offers additional online groups that people can join.

According to a magazine subscriber, “Bphope.com [is] another part of my support network — as important to me as my family, friends, or even my doctor!”

Price: Free

Best for face-to-face support

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)

Formerly known as the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association, this non-profit provides support and advocacy for people with bipolar disorder. Their website offers educational materials, like videos, podcasts, and webinars.

DBSA also offers tools and support for friends and family members. Users can search for a support group both locally in-person and online. These support groups are peer-led, which means the leaders understand what it means to live with bipolar disorder.

In addition to the general support groups, they also offer specialized groups for friends, family, and caregivers, as well as for people in the military or those who are veterans experiencing bipolar disorder.

Reviews of DBSA are mostly positive. Users say it’s a great source of support and education with passionate, real-life stories. Some users report feeling overwhelmed for their first few meetings when hearing the experiences of other participants.

Price: The use of the website and support groups is free, but users need to sign up in order to attend groups.

Best for a variety of chat rooms

HealthfulChat

HealthfulChat provides education on many types of illnesses and conditions, including specific information, forums, and chat rooms for bipolar disorder. As people with bipolar disorder can experience multiple conditions and illnesses, HealthfulChat can provide support for the whole person.

HealthfulChat offers over 40 different volunteer-moderated chat rooms where you can get support around the clock, ask questions, or simply connect with other people.

There is a specific chat for people with bipolar disorder, but HealthfulChat also has chat rooms for anything from pregnancy to addiction. All you have to do is provide a username.

Many users say HealthfulChat isn’t moderated as well as it should be, as some verbal abuse and triggering topics come up.

One reviewer says, “The site has good and bad, like all chat sites. It is a peer support site, so take advice with a grain of salt.” Others say they made friends after coming to HealthfulChat.

Price: Free

Best for education and advocacy

The National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI)

NAMI is the largest mental health organization in the United States. They began in 1979 with a small group of families, and they now have 600 local affiliates.

They provide support, advocacy, and education for those in the mental health community and their families. Community members and healthcare professionals can also participate in classes and training.

In addition to a magazine, fundraising events, and a help line for free information and support, NAMI includes forums to connect people with others who have bipolar disorder.

Their website has information on bipolar disorder, including treatment options and current research. You can go to the “Online discussion groups” section to sign up to chat with others.

Overall, users say NAMI is a great organization “to find support for continued recovery of any mental health disorder.” Some users say they feel there isn’t a lot of legal advocacy available to them.

Price: Free

Best for online chatting

7 Cups

7 Cups provides therapy services from licensed professionals and trained volunteer listeners. They provide counseling and guidance for a community of people who understand what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder.

There are chat rooms and forums specific to bipolar disorder where people can ask questions, share knowledge and support each other.

7 Cups is available as an app as well.

7 Cups encourages users to meet others and check in as often as they want to share their stories, or to let others know they understand.

While forums aren’t run by mental health professionals, you can receive counseling with a licensed therapist for $150 per month. With this, you can chat with a therapist in unlimited messages.

As a free option, volunteer listeners are available for emotional support 24 hours per day, and can talk with people who are 13 years of age and older. However, therapy services are only for people over 18.

Some users report it can be confusing when you first join, and that there are too many rules put in place. But they report benefits to their emotional health and say volunteer listeners are helpful.

Price: Volunteer listeners and forums are free. Mental health counseling from licensed therapists costs $150 per month, and they don’t take insurance.

Best for quick pairings

My Support Forums

My Support Forums is a mental health network of social forums where members can chat with each other 24 hours per day. The site’s content is run by mental health professionals who provide informative articles and forums, including some specific to those with bipolar disorder.

As a member, you can search for topics and keywords or post new threads. You can reply to posts or send virtual hugs.

My Support Forums has been around for several decades and gets high numbers of traffic every month, so there is plenty of information and support.

Some users report verbal attacks and rudeness from other members and that the volume of members can be concerning with moderating comments.

But others say they appreciate the work moderators do to keep people safe and comments from being abusive.

Price: Free

Best for a personal approach

DailyStrength

DailyStrength provides support groups in the form of a social network of others who live with various mental and physical health conditions.

Their bipolar support group contains thousands of members and actively provides a place to give and receive encouragement, answer questions, and get contact information of different medical professionals.

There are professionals who specialize in bipolar disorder that you can reach out to by clicking on the link to DailyStrength’s parent company, Sharecare.

As a member, you’re encouraged to remain anonymous. You can also read and leave messages on different forums for a variety of different health conditions. There are tabs for general and crisis topics within the bipolar section for everyday issues or more serious ones.

Finally, within the site, you can create a journal and set your settings to private or public, depending on how open you’d like to be. You can also send virtual hugs for encouragement to other members.

Most users say DailyStrength is great for peer support and information. One user states, “Even though there are a few cliques, some of the people are amazing!” Other users report bullying and harmful behavior within forums.

Price: Free

Best for inclusivity

Mental Health America (MHA)

Mental Health America was founded in 1909 and is now the leading non-profit for those living with mental health conditions.

Their focus is on mental health prevention, early intervention, and integrated support “with recovery as the goal,” according to the website.

MHA’s philosophy focuses on treating conditions before they get to critical stages. They’re committed to addressing racial injustices and the intersection with mental health.

Their website contains a blog discussing all aspects of mental health conditions with numerous informative articles on bipolar disorder. They also host webinars, podcasts, and a peer-support community called Inspire.

These online support groups are moderated by MHA staff. Inspire’s platform shares your email address with MHA if you decide to join.

You sign up with a username and, you’re free to chat with others in the forum specific to those with bipolar disorder.

They don’t have chapters in every state and one user review on Facebook says they wished they had a chapter in their area.

But overall, users say MHA is a supportive organization that contains the latest information and trends in the mental health system.

Price: Free

What is the purpose of a bipolar support group?

Coping with a mental health condition can feel isolating, and, sometimes, friends and family members can have a hard time understanding.

It can help to meet with others who also have bipolar disorder and who are dealing with the same symptoms and concerns.

It’s also a good place to discuss medication side effects, treatment options, self-care, and coping strategies.

Is a bipolar support group right for me?

It can be beneficial to join a support group when you have bipolar disorder.

Kruti Patel, PhD, a clinical psychologist, explains that, with this type of support, people feel understood and learn from others on how to cope with the various concerns.

“Joining a support group can really help with feeling less alone and finding a community that will understand what you’re experiencing,” Patel says.

How do online support groups differ from in-person support groups?

An in-person support group can be led by a mental health professional or by a layperson. Mental health professionals may be nurses, licensed therapists, or social workers.

Peer-led groups are usually run by volunteers who have some sort of training and share common experiences with group participants.

These tend to be scheduled at certain times, and you would need to find one that’s available in your area.

Online support groups can consist of chat rooms and forums, social media groups, or virtual video calls. These online groups usually allow more flexibility, and you can get support more frequently than if you attended in-person groups.

How do I decide which option is best for me?

Patel explains if your bipolar disorder symptoms are more severe, you may benefit more from in-person groups, because they allow for less distraction and more direct engagement with others.

However, “online groups will still be able to capture all the benefits of a group experience,” Patel says. If you’d like support but are very independent in your life or already feel supported by your individual therapist, a virtual group might be more appropriate.

Patel adds that it’s important to also consider how often group meetings are held and if the group is led by professionals or peers.

Whether you’re looking for an in-person support group or a chat room led by volunteers or professionals, there are many options to try out. The majority of them are free — except for those including professional counseling.

It’s important to note that support groups are proposed as a supplement to professional treatment.

But, with access to so many support groups online or on your phone, it’s easy to get the additional support you need.

Risa Kerslake is a registered nurse, freelance writer, and mom of two from the Midwest. She specializes in topics related to women’s health, mental health, oncology, postpartum, and fertility content. She enjoys collecting coffee mugs, crocheting, and attempting to write her memoir. Read more about her work at herwebsite.