Identifying and describing patients' learning experiences towards self-management of bipolar disorders: a phenomenological study

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Existing evidence suggest that self-management education of bipolar disorder (BD) is effective. However, why outcomes differ across the full range of service users has not been examined. This study describes learning experiences of service users in self-managing BD that provide a possible explanation for this varying effectiveness. We have conducted a phenomenological study via face-to-face, in-depth interviews, guided by a topic list, along service users with BD I or II (n = 16) in three specialised community care clinics across the Netherlands. Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim prior to analysis in Atlas.ti 7. Unlike existing studies, which suggest that individual abilities of service users determine outcomes in self-management of BD, the current study found that self-management of BD is a learning process that takes place in a collaborative network. We identified five categories: acknowledgment of having BD, processing the information load, illness management, reflecting on living with BD, and self-management of BD. The success of self-management depends on the acknowledgment of individual limitations in learning to cope with BD and willingness to use a social network as a back-up instead. Especially, the dormant fear of a recurrent episode is a hampering factor in this learning process.

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