How to manage mental health/bipolar disorder at a festival

This post, inspired by my recent trip to Leeds festival outlines how I manage my bipolar disorder during a festival. 

Basic Needs

Following Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs we will first look at the basic human needs.


First and fore mostly it is important to eat right, something I am not so great at. This is particularly important with mental health to give your brain the vitamins and nutrients it needs to function properly. This is quite difficult to achieve given the abundance of fast food containing little nutritional value. You can combat this by taking a multivitamin daily to keep up your nutrient levels and give your body what it needs. Festivals involve a lot of drinking, walking, and staying out in the cold. I would recommend eating high carb and protein foods to keep your energy levels high and stomachs lined. 


Secondly alongside eating right sleep is important, it is tempting to pull and all-nighter at a festival, the nightlife doesn’t sleep however this will leave you tired and groggy. As a previous therapist once told me, everything is harder when you’re tired. A lack of sleep can also trigger an episode of mania or depression in bipolar disorder which could be dangerous or could ruin your time. Better to get those extra few hours in bed. 


The next section of the hierarchy consists of feeling safe and comfortable in your environment. 

Stay safe and Comfortable

There is safety in numbers and you will feel much more at ease surrounded by strangers and crowds if you are with good friends. Keep valuables either on you securely or locked away in a secure locker to avoid unnecessary worrying about your possessions back at camp. Layer up and take plenty of layers into the arena if you plan on staying past 7pm, it gets cold without a campfire to keep you warm. Stay warm and dry and you are sure to feel more at ease and enjoy yourself.


The next section addresses the need of belonging.

Keep Good Company

At a festival it is extremely important to surround yourself with good company. Being around friends can help reduce feelings of loneliness and homesickness, social anxiety from being around so many unpredictable strangers, less afraid and can also prevent you having too much time to think, which can often lead to dwelling on depressing or anxious thoughts. 

Communicate Your Needs

Following on from the last point it is important to communicate your mental health needs, but you don’t need to make this so obvious. You can disclose as much or as little as possible regarding your mental health. For example say you are in the crowd, it’s getting hot and busy and you start to feel overwhelmed or anxious. You can simply say you don’t feel great, can you all go and get a drink of water. You will communicate your need to get out without disclosing and you are not lying, mental health is an illness and can make you unwell just like any physical ailment. Some of my favourite ways of doing this for depression or anxiety symptoms include, I don’t feel well, I feel sick, I am tired, I am in pain, all of these things my ‘normal’ friends have complained about at festivals! For mania I explain that my metabolism is too high and I am shaky/fidgety, or that I have had too much caffeine as I always have some form in the morning. 

Alcohol and Substance Use

It is safe to say nobody with mental health issues should drink or do any form of drug except what is prescribed to you, however I believe it is your choice. Personally I choose to drink with my bipolar disorder but keep it managed by following a few guidelines. First of all if you are on medication it is important to get agreement from them that it is safe to drink alcohol with your dosage. Secondly know your limits and do not exceed them, you are there to have a good time and too much of a good thing can be a very very bad experience if you push yourself too far. It is not worth it as this can trigger mania or depression. Know yourself, only drink if you feel stable enough to handle the high energy or the depression that may or may not follow your decision to drink alcohol. Finally, do not drink in depression. Alcohol is a depressant and this is the worst thing you can do for depression as it adds to the symptoms, especially with a hangover on top of a night on the floor! 

Take your Medication

The most important piece of advice for staying stable and managing your mental health needs is to continue taking any prescribed medication that you are taking regularly. It is tempting, especially if you cannot drink on medication to go off of them. I recently found myself wanting to go off medication to induce a manic episode when I was already hypomanic and not thinking straight. These are bad ideas. You have no idea what will happen suddenly going off your medication and potentially this could lead to an episode of depression, mania, anxiety or withdrawal whilst surviving camping and festival nightlife. It is really not worth the risk. 

To find out more about managing mental health needs through motivation theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, read my post on it here



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