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Qual Life Res. 2018 Jun;27(6):1493-1500. doi: 10.1007/s11136-018-1811-x. Epub 2018 Feb 12.

The 'new normal': relativity of quality of life judgments in individuals with bipolar disorder-a qualitative study.

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Faculty of Health, Arts and Design Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia.
Division of Mood Disorders, Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
School of Social Work, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, BC, Canada.
Faculty of Health, Arts and Design Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia.
Department of Psychological Sciences, Swinburne University of Technology, PO Box 218, John Street, Hawthorn, VIC, 3122, Australia.



Quality of life (QoL) is increasingly a target of interventions for bipolar disorders (BD). While the subjective experience of consumers is often elevated as central to the construct of QoL in BD, limited investigation in this area means subjective QoL remains poorly understood. The present qualitative study seeks to address this by investigating how people with BD appraise the quality of their lives in the context of a QoL self-management intervention.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 43 individuals who had participated in a self-management intervention for improving QoL in BD. Individuals were questioned about experiences of the intervention and perceptions of their QoL. Thematic analysis was used to explore participants' appraisal of their QoL.


An overarching theme concerned the intrinsic relativity of subjective QoL: individuals located QoL as relative to self, others and possible futures. Incorporating illness-related reference points for QoL ('given my circumstances…') was associated with perceptions of improved QoL. Deliberately modifying reference points for QoL was perceived as self-compassionate.


The present study generates novel hypotheses about how individuals with BD make sense of their QoL. Data suggest that individuals located their QoL relative to a variety of reference points, use of which was flexible. In accord with gap theories of QoL, individuals experienced acceptance of illness impacts as improving subjective sense of QoL. Rather than 'settling for' a lower standard of QoL, individuals experienced these changes as adaptive and positive. Findings are discussed in relation to the measurement and amelioration of QoL in BD.


Bipolar disorder; Psychiatric; Qualitative; Quality of life; Recovery model; Response shift


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