Background: Subjective experience of illness affects outcomes among populations with bipolar disorder (BD). This cross-sectional study combined qualitative and quantitative approaches to evaluate perceived treatment effects, concerns and expectations among 90 individuals with BD.
Methods: Adults with Type I BD, mean age 36.6 years, 51% women, completed a semi-structured interview that was audio taped, transcribed, coded and analyzed along emergent themes. Quantitative scales measured depressive symptoms (Hamilton Depression Scale/HAM-D), psychopathology (Clinical Global Impression/CGI), and insight and treatment attitudes (Insight and Treatment Attitudes Questionnaire/ITAQ).
Results: Individuals had moderate depression and psychopathology with good insight into need for treatment. Drug treatment was perceived as beneficial, by "stabilizing" or "balancing" mood (42%, N=38), decreasing anxiety/depressive symptoms (19%, N=17) and improving sleep (10%, N=9). While 39%, (N=35) of individuals denied medication concerns, nearly 29%, (N=26) feared possible long-term effects, particularly diabetes or liver/kidney damage. Media stories and advertisements contributed to medication fears. Hopes and expectations for treatment ranged from those that were symptom or functional status-based, such as desiring mood stabilization and elimination of specific symptoms (23%, N=21), to more global hopes such as "being normal" (20%, N=18) or "cured" (18%, N=16).
Limitations: Limitations include relatively small sample, lack of a comparator, inclusion of only depressed individuals and those willing to discuss their illness experience.
Conclusions: While individuals with BD appreciate the effects of medications, concerns regarding adverse effects and discrepancy between actual and hoped-for outcomes can be substantial. Subjective experience with medications using qualitative and quantitative methods should be explored in order to optimize treatment collaboration and outcomes.