Two sides of the same coin: caring for a person with bipolar disorder


V. Maskill
Centre for Postgraduate Nursing
University of Otago
PO Box 4345
New Zealand


Accessible summary

  • • Bipolar disorder is a severe and chronic psychiatric disorder that can cause significant functional impairment for patients and burden for their informal caregivers.
  • • The experiences of informal caregivers described both positive and negative aspects of their experiences.
  • • Mental health nurses could take a collaborative approach with informal caregivers to support their role.


The aim of this paper was to gain an in-depth understanding of the way the lives of individuals supporting someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a severe, recurrent and chronic mental disorder that has a significant impact on the lives of those who experience it and the people supporting them. It is often the subsyndromal symptoms that cause major impairment in functioning and can have financial, social, interpersonal and health impacts for carers. A qualitative thematic analysis was chosen to enable an in-depth exploration of participants' experiences. Twelve participants were interviewed using a semi-structured interview and the data were analysed to identify the themes that represented the participants' experiences. The predominant theme that emerged, two sides of the same coin, described the positive and negative aspects of being an informal carer for a person with bipolar disorder. This theme is constituted by two sub-themes: (1) ‘I am a much more compassionate person’; and (2) ‘It's tough and it's a sacrifice’. Mental health nurses could support informal caregivers more by providing care that demonstrates an understanding of the complexities associated with bipolar disorder and utilizes a collaborative approach to care that actively involves informal caregivers.