Understanding The Lives Of Bipolar Women With Post-Secondary School Experience
Ancona, Lori Heyob
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SubjectDepression in women; Manic-depressive illness in women; Bipolar Disorder; College women--Mental health
Understanding the Lives of Bipolar Women with Post-Secondary School Experience Problem: Bipolar disorder affects 2.6% of the population over age 18 and often presents for the first time during the college years (Lejeune, 2011). Students at this age already face challenges in adapting to a new lifestyle, and those with a mental illness face additional challenges amidst an environment that doesn’t necessarily provide stability for successful management of bipolar disorder. There is a dearth in the literature investigating personal life histories of bipolar adults that identify common themes in early years regarding bipolar disorder onset and later years in coping mechanisms during post-secondary school. Procedures: This qualitative phenomenological research study examined the lived experiences of six women with bipolar disorder who attended post-secondary school. This study was motivated by the research questions: (1) What are the experiences of one living with bipolar disorder? (2) What are successful coping strategies while navigating a post-secondary degree? Understanding and describing the essence of a lived phenomenon (Van Manen, 1990) was the foundation of my work. Narrative interviews (Seidman, 2006) were used to collect data to allow the participants to tell their stories and share the experiences of living with bipolar disorder. Findings: Emergent themes included home/family life, the onset of bipolar disorder, school involvement/achievement, and coping strategies, which produced the following findings: none of the participants shared their mental instability during post-secondary school with any educational professional, bipolar disorder for females is at its worst during hormonal cycles, childhood abuse is connected to adult onset bipolar disorder, participants who experienced childhood abuse later abused substances, low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness were factors amongst participants, all participants were high-achievers as youngsters, coping strategies included pharmaceutical intervention, exercise, eating healthy foods, getting adequate sleep, having a strong support system, and cognitive reshaping through therapeutic counseling intervention. Conclusions: Many people with bipolar disorder lead productive, successful lives. Ongoing research in this field, along with support from family, friends, and educators is essential in helping these individuals find balance, happiness, connection to others, and successful coping strategies during post-secondary school and in life in general. Recommendations: Educating school personnel on bipolar disorder would lead to greater mental illness awareness, help identify at-risk students, and provide possible accommodations. The link between childhood abuse and bipolar disorder needs to be further explored. The fact that high-achieving youngsters are four times at greater risk for later bipolar disorder than students with average school performance (MacCabe et al., 2010) is worthy of further examination. Teachers and administrators should pay close attention to high-achieving youngsters who exhibit signs of low self-esteem and perfectionism. The link between bipolar disorder and the female hormone cycle should be further examined in order to provide support to women, especially after childbirth.