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High and happy? Exploring the experience of positive states of mind in people who have been given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder

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Abstract

Objectives. To approach the experience of ‘happiness’ and ‘mania’ for people who have been given a diagnosis of ‘bipolar disorder’ and to explore how they might differentiate or associate between these experiences.

Design. A qualitative design was used in which four participants who had been given a diagnosis of ‘bipolar disorder’ were interviewed individually regarding their experiences and ideas about ‘mania’ and ‘happiness’.

Methods. Transcriptions from the interviews were analysed using the iterative process of interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Results. Four superordinate themes were identified. Two highlighted the conceptual fluidity and similarities between their ideas about and experiences of ‘happiness’ and ‘mania’. Two emphasized the differences between these notions for the participants, which reflected the destruction, disruption, and chaos of ‘mania’ in contrast to the importance of self-acceptance, peacefulness, and social connection for ‘happiness’.

Conclusion. There may be benefit in maintaining an active dialogue or ‘poly-vocality’ about the meanings of ‘happiness’ in clinical work with people who experience ‘positive states’ of mind, which are personally problematic. This can be supported by drawing on ideas and narratives about ‘happiness’ from the field of positive psychology.

Practitioner Points

  • • People who have been given a label of ‘bipolar disorder’ may experience both similarities and differences between their experiences of ‘happiness’ and ‘mania’.
  • • Clinical practice may benefit from embracing ‘poly-vocality’ to open up a wider range of narratives about ‘high’ and ‘happy’ so practitioners, carers, and service-users do not get stuck in dominant constructions of these ‘positive states’ as ‘illness’.
  • • Positive psychology interventions that pertain to acceptance and peacefulness or meaningful social connection to community could offer alternative narratives for guiding the pursuit of ‘happiness’ and alleviating distress.

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