Background: In mental health care, clinical practice is often based on the best available research evidence. However, research findings are difficult to apply to clinical practice, resulting in an implementation gap. To bridge the gap between research and clinical practice, patients’ perspectives should be used in health care and research. This study aimed to understand the challenges people with bipolar disorder (BD) experience and examine what these challenges imply for health care and research needs. Methods: Two qualitative studies were used, one to formulate research needs and another to formulate healthcare needs. In both studies focus group discussions were conducted with patients to explore their challenges in living with BD and associated needs, focusing on the themes diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Results: Patients’ needs are clustered in ‘disorder-specific’ and ‘generic’ needs. Specific needs concern preventing late or incorrect diagnosis, support in search for individualized treatment and supporting clinical, functional, social and personal recovery. Generic needs concern health professionals, communication and the healthcare system. Conclusion: Patients with BD address disorder-specific and generic healthcare and research needs. This indicates that disorder-specific treatment guidelines address only in part the needs of patients in everyday clinical practice.