OBJECTIVES: Many studies have examined the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of the public, but few have focused on individuals with existing severe mental illness with longitudinal data before and during the pandemic. AIMS: To investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of people with bipolar disorder (BD). METHODS: In an ongoing study of people with BD who used an online mood monitoring tool, True Colours, 356 participants provided weekly data on their mental health. Symptoms of depression, mania, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts were compared in 2019 and 2020. From May 2020, participants also provided weekly data on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on anxiety, coping strategies, access to care, and medications. RESULTS: On average, symptoms of depression, mania, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts did not significantly differ in 2020 compared to 2019, but there was evidence of heterogeneity. There were high rates of anxiety about the pandemic and its impact on coping strategies, which increased to over 70% of responders in January 2021. A significant proportion of participants reported difficulty accessing routine care (27%) and medications (21%). CONCLUSIONS: Although mood symptoms did not significantly increase during the pandemic overall, we observed heterogeneity among our BD sample and other impacted areas. Individuals' unique histories and psychosocial circumstances are key and should be explored in future qualitative studies. The significant impacts of the pandemic may take time to manifest, particularly among those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, highlighting the need for further long-term prospective studies.
Bipolar disorder, COVID-19, depression, longitudinal, mania