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J Adv Nurs. 2009 Apr;65(4):877-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04954.x. Epub 2009 Feb 19.

Parenting with a diagnosis bipolar disorder.

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Centre for Postgraduate Nursing Studies, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand.



This paper is a report of a study of the ways in which bipolar disorder is constructed in the DSM-IV and popular texts, and how parents who have been diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder construct their role as parent.


Research into parenting and mental illness has typically taken a deficit-based approach that focuses on the risks to children when a parent has a mental illness. Literature that considers parenting specifically in the context of bipolar disorder retains a focus on the increased risk to their children of psychopathology or psychosocial difficulties.


A critical discourse analysis was conducted using interviews with five parents who had received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. These interviews were examined in relation to the text that constructs the diagnosis of bipolar disorder (DSM-IV) and the popular texts from which the parents drew their understandings of parenting.


The need to monitor and moderate emotions was a dominant theme that emerged from the analysis. For these parents this also involved teaching moderation to their children and monitoring it in their children's development. The consequence of this for these parents was a heightened sense of the need for self-surveillance.


The challenge for people working with parents who have been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder is to support them to feel confident in the management of their bipolar disorder and their ability to parent effectively.

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