Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

First Advisor

MaryEllen Thompson

Department Affiliation

Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Second Advisor

Julie Baltisberger

Department Affiliation

Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Third Advisor

Christine Privott

Department Affiliation

Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy


Background: Although research has been done on many aspects of bipolar disorder, research has not examined the individual living experiences of college students with bipolar disorder. Research looks at the

Methods: In-depth interviews were used to learn the details of the experience of attending college with bipolar disorder. Three volunteers came forward to be interviewed. They had a bipolar disorder diagnosis, and are current students at a southern university. Questions focused on the lived experience of being a student with bipolar disorder, and probing questions were used to learn more about each participant’s particular experience. The first two interviews had primary codes applied, then secondary codes, then themes. The third interview was done to confirm or repute the results of the first two interviews

Results: The results of this study found three major themes throughout the three participants’ interviews. The first theme was ‘supports’, which included categories of medication and treatments; family, co-worker, and church support systems; disability accommodations; mania as a support; and ideas the participants had that could further help students. The second theme was ‘barriers’, which included categories of suicidal thoughts and actions, stigma and judgment, the difficulty involved in diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder, and ideas from the participants on things that do not help them to have success in school. The third theme, “It’s part of who I am” focuses on the fact that bipolar disorder has contributed to who they are as people at this stage in their life. Categories for this theme include grades, school as therapy, choosing where to live, staying away from campus, “It’s part of who I am”, and “at the beginning it’s just about accepting it”.

Conclusion: Occupational therapists can help clients with bipolar disorder become aware of and access accommodation services in higher education, when that client has a goal of successfully attending college. Occupational therapists can also advocate for a larger role on college campuses to help students with bipolar disorder through group intervention and to help them with medication management.