The Bipolar Life: More Than Just a Mental Struggle

Three older women smiling. | Graphic made by author with Canva.

TW: Suicide

Recently, I read the biography of a missionary who served in Ghana that got me thinking about bipolar disorder life expectancy.

In my younger days, I dreamed of being a missionary in an exotic land. My dream never materialized, but I’m fascinated by stories of those who pursued a similar path.

The story told how much the missionary loved teaching others about his faith. Things were good for him and his wife, but then he started experiences troubling symptoms. Among other things, he felt like he couldn’t stop talking. His wife even told him he talked so fast she couldn’t understand him.

The story told how the missionary was diagnosed with a “serious mental health condition.” Intrigued, I wanted to know which one, but my gut already told me what I would find. When I read it was manic depression (as bipolar disorder was once known), I almost dropped my tablet.

I felt like someone punched me in the stomach.

Bipolar is a serious mental health condition? I thought.

Well, duh!

Of course, I know that, but I don’t always know that.

The missionary’s story made me wonder how mental illness affects overall quality of life and life expectancy. Does bipolar disorder lead to a shorter life? Can bipolar disorder cause other health issues? How long do people with bipolar disorder live?

Let’s find the answer to those questions.

Bipolar and Acceptance

One of the most crucial things to do at the start of your bipolar journey is to accept your diagnosis. It’s easier said than done, and I fought against mine for a long time. Even when I told people I had bipolar, part of me felt it wasn’t true. The diagnosis was a mistake, and I knew my doctors would figure it out in time.

Jump forward 25+ years, and there’s no doubt it was the correct diagnosis. And I’m clearly in the bipolar 1 park, having endured both extreme mania and psychosis with hallucinations.

The time I spent arguing with my diagnosis kept me stuck in time. I couldn’t move forward because I refused to admit there was a problem. It was only after the second time my life crashed and burned (three years after my diagnosis) when I accepted the truth. Even then, it was a battle to come to terms with it.

Bipolar is Serious

Let’s skip over the obvious for a moment. You likely know that statistics put suicide rates for people with bipolar disorder at nearly 20 percent. It seems to be one of the first facts we learn after we’re diagnosed.

But did you know bipolar disorder is also linked to other causes of premature death? One study concluded that patients live an average of a 13-year shorter lifespan because of the condition. Another study put it at 11-20 years.


The studies also revealed that men have a greater overall health impact than women.

Living with bipolar disorder can come with physical illnesses that can impact your life expectancy.

Learn more about the most common physical illnesses associated with bipolar disorder and how to manage them for a longer, healthier life.

Take action now and start making positive changes in your wellbeing! 

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
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Why Bipolar Disorder Shortens Lifespans

As I reviewed the studies, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why does bipolar disorder shorten lifespans? What is the life expectancy of someone with bipolar disorder?”

The 2021 study showed a few reasons for the shorter life expectancy. Some items were decision based, such as smoking, abusing drugs or alcohol, or committing suicide. Those items were hardly a surprise. Addiction seems to run hand-in-hand with bipolar, and we all know we’re prone to make poor choices, especially when manic.

According to Psych News: “The subjects with bipolar disorder had twice the death rate of the general Swedish population and died, on average, nine-years earlier than the rest of the population, the researchers found. Women with bipolar disorder died at the average age of 73, whereas women in the general population died at the average age of 83. Men with bipolar died at the average age of 72, while men in the general population died at the average age of 78.”

The part I found most surprising was how bipolar disorder also increases your likelihood of developing other health issues, such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes (type 2)
  • High blood pressure
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Respiratory diseases

Unclear Connections

The link between bipolar disorder and these other health conditions isn’t as clear, at least as to cause. Doctors disagree on why the mental illness increases the chances of comorbidities, but none can deny there is a clear connection. Bipolar disorder life expectancy is often shorter than the general population.

Depressed? Yeah, me too. Still, knowledge is power, so I always want to share the things I learn with you.

I’m sharing these facts is to help you understand why I recommend doing your best with your mental health care. The cards are stacked against us, so it’s up to us to do the right things. It’s why we take our meds every day, drink lots of water, eat nutritious foods, exercise, and maintain healthy sleep schedules. To best increase our odds, we also practice self-care, journal, and try to maintain an attitude of gratitude.

You can’t change the hand you’re dealt, but you can make better choices with the cards you have.

Sometimes, even when you’re doing all the right things, it still feels like bipolar is winning. You’re not alone if you feel that way, but you can’t give up. Your life still has value.

Three older men smiling. | Graphic made by author with Canva.

Bipolar Can Change Your Life Course

The missionary in the story gave up his assignment and returned to his home country. He dedicated the next several years of his life to learning to manage his mental illness.

The man in the story received his manic depression diagnosis in the early 1970s. Doctors knew the condition existed, but they were mostly treating it with trial-and-error methods.

Now, 50 years later, much more is known about mental illnesses and bipolar disorder life expectancy. Treatment for bipolar disorder is rarely the long journey I went through, with nearly three years and 30 medications to reach stability.

When I was first diagnosed, I couldn’t work. Many days, even shaving or bathing felt impossible. Eventually, I found a treatment plan that worked, and I’ve been able to work a full-time schedule ever since.

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Keep Fighting

I’d love to say the happy ending was the missionary returned to preach in Africa. Sadly, missionary work remained out of bounds for him, but he did what he could to help others in his home country. His story should give us hope.

Not all dreams come true, but your life can still be full. My life has value both to me and my readers. Your life has value, too.

Like the missionary, your life path may change because of bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t end there. It may be a different path, but there is still so much you can do.

Just by continuing to fight, day after day, you are inspiring others. So never give up your fight.

Has a news story ever hit you hard? Please share your experiences in the comments.

Journal Prompt: If you only had one week left to live, what would you do differently today? How can you make the best of every day now?

Until next time, keep fighting.

Read Next: How To Successfully Handle Common Bipolar Symptoms


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why is life expectancy lower for bipolar disorder?

A: Studies reveal that individuals living with bipolar disorder tend to have a lower life expectancy due to a combination of factors such as higher suicide rates, co-existing conditions, and lifestyle choices that may impact overall health.

Q: Why does bipolar disorder shorten your life?

A: Bipolar disorder can potentially shorten one’s life due to the risk of suicide, substance abuse, and higher likelihood of certain physical health conditions such as heart disease. The stress and disruption caused by the severe mood swings can also have a detrimental effect on overall health and wellbeing.

Q: What is the life expectancy of someone with bipolar disorder?

A: It’s important to remember that bipolar disorder affects individuals differently and life expectancy can vary greatly. However, some research suggests that on average, life expectancy for people with bipolar disorder may be decreased by up to 9-20 years.

Q: What conditions can appear with bipolar disorder?

A: Bipolar disorder often coexists with other mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, ADHD, and substance abuse problems. Physical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity are also more common in individuals with bipolar disorder.

Living with bipolar disorder can come with physical illnesses that can impact your life expectancy.

Learn more about the most common physical illnesses associated with bipolar disorder and how to manage them for a longer, healthier life.

Take action now and start making positive changes in your wellbeing! 

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. Graphic created with Canva.

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