Three Phases of Bipolar Discovery and Recovery

Bipolar (BD) can go undiagnosed for years and even decades. The ups and downs of bipolar can cause people to experience high amounts of energy, erratic behavior, or engagement in risky activities that are not thought to be associated with bipolar. The depressive state of bipolar is often misdiagnosed as depression or dismissed altogether. In fact, the length of time between symptom onset and diagnosis of bipolar can be as long as 10 years.

That is an extremely long time for individuals living with the symptoms as they can be significantly disruptive to their lives, their families and overall well-being. Most people with bipolar finally reach a point where they do not recognize themselves or feel at home in their own lives anymore. But once they receive a diagnosis, does that help them accept what is happening and move toward recovery? Or does it frighten them and exacerbate symptoms?

Marius Veseth of the Department of Clinical Psychology at the University of Bergen in Norway recently led a study that assessed how the discovery of a bipolar diagnosis affected recovery in a sample of 13 adults with bipolar. The participants were found to go through three phases as they progressed from discovery to recovery. The first phase was one of “uncertainty and confusion,” during which participants described feeling out of place within their own homes and lives. Some even reported that their family members and friends also thought they were not themselves, but could not explain why. The second phase was one of trying to identify and understand the unusual mood states they experienced. For most of the participants, this endeavor led to more feelings of not being themselves.

The third phase occurred when participants received a diagnosis and attempted to give meaning to their illness. Although participants reported similar emotions and reactions during the first two phases, they differed in the third and final phase studied here. Some of participants experienced relief and comfort when they realized that they were dealing with bipolar. But many of the participants had a difficult time accepting the fact that they were indeed dealing with a significant mental illness.

Veseth said, “Thus, knowledge and recognition seemed to be important to, as well as a challenge in, the participants commencing processes of recovery disorder.” However, Veseth added that for many, awareness offers a sense of security that can be the first step in an individual’s process of recovery.

Veseth, M., Binder, P.-E., Borg, M. & Davidson, L. (2013). How I found out I had a bipolar disorder: A reflexive-collabortive exploration of the process of identifying that one is struggling with a severe mental health problem. Qualitative Studies 4(1): 21-38.

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  • barry


    June 14th, 2013 at 11:40 PM

    discovery of the reason for uneasiness being a problem?would never be so with me.i mean how can finding out the cause of a problem be so bad?unless you hold a belief that the cause is so bad that you are doomed or have this craze about mental illness that many seem to have!

  • Brantley


    June 15th, 2013 at 4:27 AM

    Individuals who ahve gone through this process end up with a whole lot of confusion and self loathing simply because they have spent a lifetime not understanding what they are going through and also a life with others who equally did not have the where with all to know that there was seriouslt something wrong and who allowed it to progress for a long period of time and not seeking help.

    With that being said I can definitely see those phases at play in pretty much anyone with BD. You try to work through it, you try to understand it, and then finally you have to seek out that final understanding, and the diagnosis is almost a gift to you in the end. It offers ou a way to heal, to move forward and to hopefully live a more normal life, one where you feel not quite so out of control but more in control of who you are and the experiences that you are feeling.

  • K.Root


    June 16th, 2013 at 11:02 PM

    “But once they receive a diagnosis, does that help them accept what is happening and move toward recovery? Or does it frighten them and exacerbate symptoms?”

    I don’t think this question has a standard or constant answer.while one person could take it in his stride and feel better to know what is actually happening,another may freak out.the surrounding,the environment and the support-all this needs to be taken under consideration before reaching a decision on how exactly the person is to be intimated and in what manner.

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