Date of Award

5-2004

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Nursing

Major Professor

Sandra Thomas

Committee Members

Susan Speraw, Patricia Droppleman, Priscilla Blanton

Abstract

Recent years have seen a rise in the number of children diagnosed at an early age with bipolar disorder. Additionally, prescription of psychiatric medications to young children has sharply increased. Parents must assume the responsibility for medication management and behavioral monitoring because inpatient care is brief. This, combined with a changing political arena, may mean continued stress and burden for caregivers and parents of children diagnosed with a psychiatric illness.

The purpose of this existential phenomenological study was to describe the lived experience of parents of children ages 6-11 years, who are diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. An existential phenomenological research method was used. Non directive, in depth, taped interviews were conducted with a volunteer sample of 10 parents. The narratives were analyzed for common themes of experience by the researcher and an interdisciplinary research team.

A thematic structure of four interrelated themes emerged. These themes were: (1) “it’s always, always: engulfed in chaos”; (2) “my hands are tied: scared and frustrated”; (3) “on the other side of a dark curtain: alone and shunned away”; and (4) “I cry so many tears on this child: it hurts but it’s worth it.” The themes stood out against the contextual ground of others, primarily the child and professionals in the educational and healthy systems. The parents in this study experienced unrelenting fear, frustration, loneliness, and hurt. The health and educational systems proved to be inadequate. However, the parents were strong, fighting for the rights of their child, the prime consideration of their lives.

Examined from the perspective of family nursing care for a chronically ill child, the study informs nurses of ways to support parents. The findings also provide further insight into the interactions that the families have with the environment with implications for a wider audience of school, medical, psychiatric, social work, and psychological professionals.

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