"Being With" Bipolar Disorder

J. Karen Reynolds


In this paper, I explore the impact of bipolar disorder on the experiences of two groups of postsecondary students.  I theorize that Bourdieu’s (1986) theory of forms of capital provides a lens for understanding how these students negotiate social, cultural, institutional, and symbolic forms of capital in their daily academic lives.  I analyze the studies using a constant comparative method often used in research employing ethnographic techniques.  The findings examine students’ concerns around learning and achievement within university settings and the debilitating effects of stigma on individuals identified with bipolar disorder.  In doing so, the findings reinforce Bourdieu’s theory of capital, because students require relevant support to increase their access to capital in terms of educational certification, employment, finances, and membership in valued groups.  However, Bourdieu’s theory has significant limitations.  For the bipolar students in these studies, a form of intrapersonal capital, or personal power, was needed to take responsibility for their education and lives, and to positively influence those around them.  The implications suggest that instructors in higher education need to accept students with bipolar disorders, while students with bipolar disorders need to reach out to instructors and share their needs.

Keywords: bi-polar disorders; post secondary students; higher education


bi-polar disorders; post secondary students; higher education

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