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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