Support Groups for Bipolar


Support Groups for BipolarSupport groups for bipolar seem like such a good idea. There are so many questions and it is hard to find good sources of information. Family and friends can be a resource, but they may not understand the challenges of living with mood instability. Professionals (a therapist or psychiatrist) can help, but they are not available all the time, and there are some things that you want to talk about with a peer rather than a professional.

Finding a group that is a good “fit” can be a challenge. After all, bipolar affects people of all types, all ages, and all backgrounds. It can be hard to get beyond the differences when joining a group of people who have been in and out of hospitals, or are homeless, or are all much older than you. So finding the right group may be something of a project.

Broadly speaking, support groups can be divided into those that are “in person,” and those that are “virtual.” Each of these can also be categorized as “peer run” or “professionally run.”

In person support groups

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. DBSA is the largest national organization focused on helping people with bipolar and depression. There are local affiliates throughout the country. The quality and extent of local programs varies depending on the folks who run them and the people who attend the groups. But DBSA does offer its affiliates a good deal of support and information to try to make sure that all of its programs meet certain standards and follow a similar format. In addition, DBSA offers some “virtual” support groups.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness. Primarily has focused on family support but now offers support groups for “consumers.” Most of the groups tend to focus on people who are more severely ill.

Alcoholics Anonymous. And many other twelve step programs are often good resources for people with bipolar plus other common problems – substance use, alcohol use, overeating, sexual addiction, etcetera, etcetera.

Online or “virtual” support groups

Bipolar Support is a resource with both information and online forums.

Stigma is an online mood tracking and social support app that is available only on the iPhone. In the words of one of its users… “This is a mood tracker, peer support app, and digital journal all in one. You can share your entries with the community, your pen pals, your group, or just yourself.”

Yahoo Groups. Probably the largest set of groups available on the internet. There seems to be a group for everything. Just to give you an idea, there is a Yahoo Group for Bipolar Witches…

MedHelp. They have online tools and moderated and unmoderated forums.

Psych Central is a resource with information about all kinds of mental health conditions and problems. They also have a moderated online community. moderated online community as well as a list of other bipolar support groups list of other bipolar support groups.

Patients Like Me. A social networking tool that also tries to gather the “collective wisdom” of people with similar problems. Interesting but we aren’t sure how well it works yet.

Mental Help Net : home of the oldest and largest online mental health guide and community.

Facebook. Facebook has groups but it is a bit hard to find them. This is one… Bipolar Disorder Support Group.

Bay Area Groups for Bipolar

Readers of this blog who live in the Bay Area may be interested in two groups that are starting this fall. Both of them are led by excellent clinicians and should be valuable to people with bipolar.

Colleague and friend Descartes Li will be leading one of them. He describes the group this way –

The UCSF bipolar psychoeducational group starts on September 19, 2016. It runs for 8 sessions, Mondays 12pm to 115pm. Most commercial insurance accepted. I often describe this group as “an advanced class about bipolar disorder for people who have bipolar disorder.” I have attached a flyer and a draft schedule. Please feel free to give/show either to your patients. There is also a monthly support group for alumni of this group.

If the person is not already registered at Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute, he/she will have to come in for an initial intake and registration before the start date of the group. See attachments for details.

At the same time, the UC Berkeley Cal-Mania Program will be offering an innovative group designed to help people live well with mania.

This is part of a group treatment study offered by the UC Berkeley Cal-Mania Program.

LAUREL (Learning Affective Understanding for a Rich Emotional Life) is a 10-week group teaching skills for increasing daily experiences with positive emotions while maintaining wellness.  This group will be most helpful for people who want to learn skills to experience everyday positives with skillfulness and an awareness that will promote a healthy balance to their emotional life. 

At this time, they are only able to offer this group to people diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder.

The LAUREL group is designed to be a supplement to ongoing treatment.  In other words, they are looking for people who are already working closely with a medical doctor or treatment team and are interested in also attending their group.  They would be happy to talk with treatment providers to ensure that the LAUREL skills do not interfere with your ongoing services. 

The group will start in October 2016 and will meet for 10 weeks (day and time to be determined) in Tolman Hall on the UC Berkeley campus.  There is no cost to participating in the group and they will reimburse you for travel expenses to and from Tolman Hall. 

In addition to the group, there are four research sessions they will ask group members to complete.  First, you will meet with the group therapists to learn more about the group and decide if it will be helpful given your personal goals.  Then, you will complete an interview in the week before the group starts.  After you’ve completed group, you will also complete two additional research interviews (you can choose whether to complete the post-group interviews in person or over the phone).  You will be reimbursed $15/hr + travel for these research sessions. 

If you are interested in learning more about the LAUREL group, please call or email the Emotion and Social Interaction Lab at 510-542-8241 email:

For More Information

UCSF Bipolar Psychoeducational Group

UCSF Bipolar Group

Bipolar GroupThe UCSF bipolar psychoeducational group starts on September 14, 2015. This group is lead by bay area bipolar expert Descartes Li, MD. 

It runs for 8 sessions, Mondays 12pm to 115pm. Most commercial insurance is accepted.

Dr. Li describes this group as “an advanced class about bipolar disorder for people who have bipolar disorder.”

For regular readers of this blog it might be more of an intermediate level group.

People who have attended it in the past have said it was helpful, especially the opportunity to meet with other people who were wrestling with bipolar.

LOCATION:     UCSF Parnassus Campus – 401 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA



Some topics covered in Bipolar Disorder Group Sessions

  • Self Awareness and Mood Charting
  • Medications:  How to Get the Most (and Least) out of Your Meds
  • Sleep Management
  • Communication Skills and Stigma
  • Psychotherapy of Bipolar Disorder

The group focuses on common challenges faced by individuals with bipolar disorder with an emphasis on learning specific information about bipolar disorder.   The style is supportive, while maintaining an atmosphere of mutual respect. The group runs twice a year so if you miss this one will let you know about the next.

Unless you already have a psychiatrist at UCSF, potential members must be referred by their treating psychiatrist. (Your psychiatrist would need to contact Doctor Li).

There is a monthly support group for alumni of this group which many people find very helpful.

If you are not already registered at Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute, you will have to come in for an initial intake and registration before the start date of the group.