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Can People with a Mental Illness Live Alone?

This was a question recently asked of me, “can people with a mental illness, like bipolar disorder, live alone?”

The answer to me was obvious – yes! Absolutely. Of course a person, even with a serious mental illness, can live alone.

But then I thought about it for a moment and maybe it’s not that simple. Maybe there are some tools that facilitate living on your own.

Can Everyone Live Alone with a Mental Illness?

This is not to suggest that everyone with a mental illness can live alone. Yes, I believe that most of the people who wish to live on their own can do so, with support. It is a sad fact, however, that not everyone is going to fit into this situation. Some people will need supervised care every day. There is no shame in this. Some of us just need a bit more help than others to live our best lives.

However, most people, with some help, can live on their own if they wish to do so.

What Does It Take to Live on your Own?

It does take work to live on your own, however. For some people this work comes easily but for a person with a mental illness, it might not. You need:

However, just because you’re living alone it doesn’t mean that you have to handle everything alone.

Facilitating Independent Living

There are many things family and friends can do to support a loved one who wishes to live independently. You can:

  • Help manage finances by setting up automatic bill payments and writing post-dated rent cheques
  • Help manage appointments by providing or ensuring transportation to healthcare appointments
  • Pick up prescriptions monthly
  • Check-in frequently; set up scheduled check-in times
  • Be supportive emotionally and recognize struggles, there will likely be setbacks for someone who needs support but that doesn’t mean they can’t still move forward
  • Bring over ready-made meals
  • Help with cleaning or laundry
  • Share the workload with others – each person can provide a little support so no one is left trying to provide it all alone

Anything you can do to facilitate daily living can help ensure the success of anyone living on their own. Keep in mind though, no one is a superhero so don’t expect to provide all the support all on your own. Know when to call in other friends and family and know when to call in the professionals. There are many agencies that can help with transitional housing, partially support living and support services to those living independently.

For anyone looking for help, I recommend contacting any local mental health group as they can better direct you to your local services. Try this mental healthcare finder or a helpline if you’re not sure how to get started.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

This entry was posted in Coping, Impact of Bipolar, Understanding Mental Illness and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Can People with a Mental Illness Live Alone?

  1. Sarah says:

    I’m very high-functioning (i.e. I have a part-time job) and I look and act ‘normal’. But I do struggle to manage all the things on your list like i did before the illness. My husband helps out by doing his share and facilitating my independence and growth where he can. He helps monitor my symptoms and gives me a little push now and again. He doesn’t take over the things I’m responsible for, unless I’m acutely ill.

    Even so we tend to get a lot of late fees and so forth and we fork out far too much money for take away food while the shopping goes rotten in the fridge. But we get by.

    The trick for me was to adjust my expectations of myself and accept my illness. At first I tried to continue study for my advanced piano exam (minimum 2 hours practice a day) but I couldn’t even focus for fifteen minutes. The frustration and stress caused by this (why can’t I just do it like I used to?) actually exacerbated my symptoms and made it impossible to do even basic things for myself, like shower daily. So i ‘put it aside’ for a while. I can still enjoy playing, but I can also manage to keep myself and my house clean and tidy and have some energy for my life and relationships.

  2. mef123 says:

    I don’t think I could live alone. I live with my husband and son and right now I am doing everything with some help from my son because my husband had major surgery and is still recovering. It showed me that I would not be able to live alone. I can’t handle it, my stress and anxiety levels are sky high. I have been to my psychiatrist who changed up some of my meds (hopefully that helps). But as for living alone I need someone with me most of the time. I can’t keep up with chores or take care of my son properly although he is 14 so pretty self sufficient.

    Michele

  3. Sarah says:

    I live on my own, hold a full-time (very demanding) job, and go to school part-time. I have bi-polar disorder. It’s often challenging to pay all the bills on time and keep everything as clean as it should be. I see my therapist regularly to make sure that I keep on top of everything. It can be done!!

  4. Sierra Sage says:

    I worked full time with bipolar for many years and
    nearly killed myself with physical exhaustion in
    the mean time, but didn’t know it..I felt great! Mania non stop with brief crashes of severe headache, nausea and vomiting crashes
    spaced throughout..(increased serotonin)

    Then grandious behavior lead to my back injury
    and my job was terminated…talk about a crash!
    Forced to be still nearly killed me. My entire
    life changed…

    I love living alone because it is stressful for
    me with other people in my house that don’t really
    understand me, and so far that is only my mother
    and maybe my sons…not that they even understand,
    but they just accept. My mother is such a blessing
    because she lives in the same town and helps me a lot. Otherwise, I make it okay alone and go down and visit others in my building when I feel like it
    and only for a short while. There are days that I
    can’t bring myself to shower or do anything but then other days I feel okay. My philosophy is to
    just go with the flow…I don’t drive anymore because I was getting lost and had a wreck, but I
    take the bus or mother picks me up and we go shopping when I feel like getting out. We do good
    together as long as we aren’t living together. That
    is way too stressful for me, I would end up in the
    hospital…lol!

    sierra

  5. DavidP says:

    I’ve lived alone for over 40 years with a depressive illness. I’ve told no one, not even family, about the illness, and my attempts to get the help I have needed from the field of mental health practicioners. I’m retired now with a healthly income, my house is paid for, my car is paid for. In short, my life has progressed just like most people, with the exception of a relationship with a mating heterosexual partner. I suppose you could say that I’ve had a handicap to contend with similar to people with physical disabilities. Never have I ever asked anyone to take care of me, like feeding me, housing me, paying for anything I needed.

    I don’t know about other people, and how difficult it is for them to cope with a mental illness. I’ve suffered greatly at times, but my resolve to proceed with life has never waivered.

  6. Blanche Couture says:

    I have been living alone most of my life. I can do everything just fine for long period of time sometimes for ten years but when I am under emotional stress I have manic period that is not funny and when I recover from it I get very depressed. My moods otherwise is just fine. I don’t take any medications because of the side effects. I use herbal remedy for depression it works very good. I am planning to get phytoplankton it may be what I need not to get manic. I think I was born that way.

  7. Sierra Sage says:

    It’s wonderful you have been able to continue to function David and make it on your own to retirement…a great accomplishment for someone
    with a mental illness. My poor doctor at the time
    knows how I tried for that…going from one job
    to the next, to the next, to the next…until one
    day he said to me “sweetheart, it’s not the job,
    it’s you.” At that point I had to face it and thus
    began the process of letting go and accepting the
    benefits I had almost killed myself for years to
    earn. It wasn’t easy. It went against all of my faith, and my knowing that I could rise above and do anything I set my mind to. I wanted to be in
    control and beat this illness, not give in to it.
    No peace about it came until I accepted it for what
    it is, a true illness not to be used as an excuse,
    but that provides validation for the way I live and
    the choices I make.

    sierra

  8. Emily says:

    I live alone and work full-time. I do struggle a lot with keeping up with housework, etc. I am so moody, and still struggle with depressions (along with being an introvert), that I don’t think sharing an apartment or house would be a great option for me. Automatic bill paying and direct deposit save me from late payments on bills!
    Emily

  9. Fran says:

    My son who is 25 I am sure is bi-polar. He is very abusive to live with and I am not always going to be here for him. He needs to know how to cope on his own although I know he does not want to be alone as he thinks about all that’s wrong in his life when alone. He has never worked due to social anxiety disorder and is on Ontario Disability Support so paying bills and having a car, etc. would be difficult financially. He buys things a lot to try and keep himself happy. He will not talk to anyone (doctors, social workers) about his condition and thinks that we (his family) bring it out in him on purpose. He thinks we’re all out to ‘get him’ : (
    Not sure what to do about the situation but it’s so abusive that we are having trouble living with him and it’s getting worse all the time. Idea’s would be helpful, thanks.

  10. Hi Fran,

    I’m sorry to hear you’re in such a tough spot. Many can identify with where you are. I recommend you take a look at this article: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2010/09/how-do-i-convince-my-friend-to-get-help-for-bipolar-disorder/

    - Natasha

  11. Dr Musli Ferati says:

    The question that was put from You Ms Tracy, is very intrigued indeed. There are many pros and cons on this interrogative and delicate issue. Before to express my definitive opinion on this ambiguity matter, I would to mention that living on your own indicates a stress experience for any person, either it is mentally health or mentally ill one.It goes without saying, that mentally ill person has got much more difficulties to get out of a living alone than any person with satisfying mental health state. However, it is possible to lead a life on your own if it has any social support and helping, that are mentioned in circumstantial and condensed manner from Your above suggestion. The same recommendations are useful, beside other, for installation of a healthier lifestyle pattern, in order to overcome relapses and aggravation of respective mental disorder.

  12. John L says:

    I definitely think people can live on there own with having a mental disorder. With the right support and backing you can do anything you want. It be great to see everyone living on there own comfortably.

  13. John L says:

    I definitely think people can live on there own with having a mental disorder. With the right support and backing you can do anything you want. It be great to see everyone living on there own comfortably.

  14. this is a huge question- I am torn re protection of my daughter from failure to letting her go and being supportive in everyway- after so many failures it is so hard building a positive scenerio, but maybe the time has come to trust her- antone have thoughts on this?

  15. Sarah says:

    Letting a child go is a hard task for any parent – but when your child has a disability it is ten times the struggle to let go. She will still need your support, like any adult wants – but the challenge is to allow independence – which is most truly about her making her own choices. Can you let her fail, and pick up the pieces when she does?

    If unsure start by allowing small decisions to be hers and build up to the major ones – talk them through with her but don’t take over.

    I am 30 years old with bipolar – and I am about to travel to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. This is very very hard for my parents – even though I have been living independently for eight years.

  16. charlotte says:

    I have lived alone most of my life. Although I was married my husband had a job that kept him away from home most of the time except weekends. I worked full time and took care of pretty much everything during those years. He was verbally abusive our entire marriage and had problems he wouldn’t get help for or own up to having. I grew up in a household where my mom was bipolar but she managed to be a wonderful mom although faced difficulties with housework and depression and the like … as I do also in adult life.

    My husband died in 2003 and I sold my country house and moved in with my sister and mom. My mom died about 4 years later.

  17. charlotte says:

    In 1994, my dad died of suicide while having heart trouble and Parkinsons disease.

    My mom died in 2007 of natural causes.

    A few months after my mom died I decided it would be better for me to live on my own which I did successfully for almost 3 years. However, after I retired and was unable to find another part time job, and went through many life changes and other illness, I decided it would be better to move back with my sis and her husband … which was fine with them except that they are a little over protective and I miss having my own place where I can do whatever I want to inside or in the yard or whatever. I think I can handle this after I get settled into it again. Financially and emotionally I feel it will be better for me. My sis is almost 70 and is having health problems with high blood pressure and overweight … and I feel we can help each other this way. What is your opinion?

  18. Mika says:

    I have bi polar disorder and find it so stressful to live with anyone even my family i left them for 2 years, 3 kids yes unfortunely i left them with their father. it was terrible not being with them, but i just couldnt bare the stress. after 2 years of living on my own i moved back in, unfortunely more depressed than i’ve ever been in my life i can barely get out of bed at any given time of day, quit 2 jobs in the last year, i dont know how to pull myself out of this depression i feel like it’s eating me alive.

  19. Hi Mika,

    I’m sorry to hear you’re going through such a rough patch. I know how hard that is. I know how it can seem impossible. I know how it can seem unending. You’re not alone. Many people are fighting that battle with you.

    All I can suggest is that you work with your doctor and therapist to try to gain new tools with which to handle this depression. If you’re finding that your current doctor hasn’t made any progress then maybe it’s time to look for a new one, or a new therapist. Sometimes a change in healthcare professionals can be just what we need to kickstart a change. A second opinion can be a very good thing.

    I know that might sound tough right now but try to remember that you have to change something in order to get better.

    Good luck.

    - Natasha

  20. Don says:

    I am 53 and have lived alone since my early twenties when I came down with a very complicated, life threatening combination of PTSD and OCD.
    I have managed to get better and better over the years with the help of doctors and my Buddhist practice. I survived countless episodes of extremely close calls of nearly loosing my mental faculties and or my soul completely over the years. I survived only through heroic spiritual efforts

  21. Don says:

    I am 53 and have lived alone since my early twenties when I came down with a very complicated, life threatening combination of PTSD and OCD.
    I have managed to get better and better over the years with the help of doctors and my Buddhist practice. I survived countless episodes of extremely close calls of nearly loosing my mental faculties and/or my soul completely over the years. I survived only through heroic spiritual efforts and by the ” skin of my teeth”.
    Two years ago I had a breakthrough that I had been beating my head against a wall to have for thirty years. Now most of the pain and all of the utter dispair are gone. I still suffer with symptoms of OCD which would make it difficult to have a partner, but even these symptoms are now mitigating by the day. I was lucky enough to recieve some help with a piece of land ten years ago on which I grow landscape plants for nuseries. I would not have made it without this occupational opportunity. I will never give up hope in having a partner.

  22. Maryann says:

    I am the “family member”; the mother of a 35 yr old daughter with Bipolar & Borderline Personality Disorder… and she’s pretty much in denial about her mental illness, even though she is on SSI/Disability, hospitalized 3 times and most recently finished with a residential treatment program. While on medication, she is the daughter I know and she functions fairly well. Without medication, she is incoherent, out of control and “all over the map”! That’s where she’s at right at this moment.

    The difficult part is I live in another state, so I’m not there to support her and get her to appointments, etc. I’m trying to take care of myself, trying to “detach” (next to impossible for a mother). It’s hard to be supportive from a long distance. Once she’s “down the rabbit hole” (as I like to call it), she is out of touch with reality. I don’t know how much good it would do for me to call her local mental health agency to check on her… as she already freaked out when I called a neighbor of hers (I had the number on my cell phone from a previous phone call from that number)to check on her. She’s angry with me… but that tends to happen when she’s psychotic, whether I’ve done anything at all or not!
    I’m supposed to let go, and stop obsessing and worrying about her constantly – I’m not going to live forever (I’m 70). I don’t know what I’m supposed to do… and everyone else says “There’s nothing you can do”. Lord knows I’ve already done everything I can. There’s not enough space here to tell you. By the way, so many of you with Bipolar are so much more high-functioning than my daughter. She does not have your insight.

  23. Beth says:

    I am a 53 year old bipolar woman. I first became ill enough to hospitalize at 28 while I was in graduate school. I was hospitalized twice, but I finished school. I have been a practicing attorney for 23 years now. I live alone, but have lived with partners for long periods of time. I think I prefer living alone because I can take little time outs more easily that way. The only real symptoms I have now are related to uncontrolled verbal anger and yelling. I have alienated a lot of people that way, but I still maintain that most people have a lot of cleaning up of their own sides of the street. I know I should not yell, but they need to get their acts together too. I do not do therapy anymore because it turned into a way for my partner and my mother to abuse me. If they want therapy they need to get their own. I did therapy for 25 years. My last psychologist told me to quit reading self help books and just talk. It did me a lot of good, but I think now that that is over due to his move that I just need time to process for myself. My biggest problems are my other health problems (heart disease and diabetes) and financial. I have not had a full time decent job in two years.

  24. linnette says:

    Im 36 years old,bipolar all my life. I grew up with both of my parents in a verbal abusive environment, my father was very inconsidered with my mother cheating on her many times during the marriage. When i was a child i was the refere between my mother n father to prevent to violent scene between them, my father used to be very strict with to the point thst i couldnt have a boyfriend otherwise he would beat me up(“thats the way parents used to raise children in the dominican republic back then.)
    As consecuense of that i grew up very shy and insecure about myself and i was very scared of having a boyfriend so i remained virgen until i was 27 years old, so thats when then i decided to have a normal life, i started experiencing sex and love relationship when i met my husband, who is an excellent partner,he understands very well my bipolar condition and treats like queen but the problem is that i married him for not being alone any more since i never had enough selfconfidence and the same time i was ver afraid about my father , the sad thing is that i just married my husband because i felt so lonely all those yrs since i was a youngester with no love experience at all about sex and love plus being bipolar with more depressive symtons than manic i wasso desparated for the support of a man. Now that i have gained more experience about life in general i realized that i never have loved my husband and he is not the type of man who satifies me in many aspect eventhough he is an excellent humsn being for all the emotional supports i get from him but i wm not happy in my marriage because the passion n the chemistry match isnt there

  25. linnette says:

    Im 36 years old,bipolar all my life. I grew up with both of my parents in a verbal abusive environment, my father was very inconsidered with my mother cheating on her many times during the marriage. When i was a child i was the refere between my mother n father to prevent to violent scene between them, my father used to be very strict with to the point thst i couldnt have a boyfriend otherwise he would beat me up(“thats the way parents used to raise children in the dominican republic back then.)
    As consecuense of that i grew up very shy and insecure about myself and i was very scared of having a boyfriend so i remained virgen until i was 27 years old, so thats when then i decided to have a normal life, i started experiencing sex and love relationship when i met my husband, who is an excellent partner,he understands very well my bipolar condition and treats like queen but the problem is that i married him for not being alone any more since i never had enough selfconfidence and the same time i was ver afraid about my father , the sad thing is that i just married my husband because i felt so lonely all those yrs since i was a youngester with no love experience at all about sex and love plus being bipolar with more depressive symtons than manic i wasso desparated for the support of a man. Now that i have gained more experience about life in general i realized that i never have loved my husband and he is not the type of man who satifies me in many aspect eventhough he is an excellent humsn being for all the emotional supports i get from him but i wm not happy in my marriage because the passion n the chemistry match between us isnt there. So im scared to leave him and start living by mydelf, im afraid that i would miss his caring/emotional support when my symptons of depression arrives. He cooks, he cleans, he does the laundry. He does everything for me and takes care of me

  26. linnette says:

    But i dont love him …should i survive bymyself being bipolar?

  27. Sarah says:

    Linnette, I don’t know whether you should move on or not. All I can say about that is that love is often where and when you least expect it.

    If you do decide to move on do it GRADUALLY. You will need to build up other sources of support.

  28. linnette says:

    I like the idea of moving on gradually and start building social support.thanks Sarah for the advice.

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