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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Employment experiences of people with bipolar disorder Hale, Sandra


The mental illness called bipolar disorder creates enormous social, economic and health implications for Canadian society. Bipolar disorder (BD) causes fluctuating mood states ranging from depression to mania. Over half a million Canadians live with BD (Schaffer, 2006), and approximately 400,000 are working age, 25-64 years (Wilkins, 2004). In Canada, reported prevalence of unemployment for all persons living with a severe mental illness, including BD, is as high as 90% (Kirby, 2006). The aim of this study was to explore the perspectives of people living with bipolar disorder regarding their employment accomplishments and obstacles, and to understand the adaptive strategies they used to manage both BD and employment. Using a qualitative research framework based primarily on the interpretive descriptive approach, considered especially suited to inform health care practice, purposive sampling identified 10 people living with the extreme mood fluctuations of BD type I. Their experiences were described during one in-depth interview, a follow-up telephone interview, and findings verified through written feedback. Three main themes were revealed, related to (1) hypomania and mania, (2) stigma and disclosure, and (3) employment factors that supported or created obstacles to successful employment. Findings suggest a broader perspective of employment issues should be considered by practitioners and employers to help reduce limitations encountered by this sample of persons with BD type I. Inclusion of social, psychoeducational and organizational issues in the repertoire of job accommodations may improve employment for this population.

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