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  • 2023jagfeldphd

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Talking about personal recovery in bipolar disorder: Integrating health research, natural language processing, and corpus linguistics to analyse peer online support forum posts

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date25/08/2023
Number of pages390
Awarding Institution
Award date11/08/2023
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Background: Personal recovery, ‘living a satisfying, hopeful and contributing lifeeven with the limitations caused by the illness’ (Anthony, 1993) is of particular value in bipolar disorder where symptoms often persist despite treatment. So far, personal recovery has only been studied in researcher-constructed environments (interviews, focus groups). Support forum posts can serve as a complementary naturalistic data source.
Objective: The overarching aim of this thesis was to study personal recovery experiences that people living with bipolar disorder have shared in online support forums through integrating health research, NLP, and corpus linguistics in a mixed methods approach within a pragmatic research paradigm, while considering ethical issues and involving people with lived experience.
Methods: This mixed-methods study analysed: 1) previous qualitative evidence on personal recovery in bipolar disorder from interviews and focus groups 2) who self-reports a bipolar disorder diagnosis on the online discussion platform Reddit 3) the relationship of mood and posting in mental health-specific Reddit forums (subreddits) 4) discussions of personal recovery in bipolar disorder subreddits.
Results: A systematic review of qualitative evidence resulted in the first framework for personal recovery in bipolar disorder, POETIC (Purpose & meaning, Optimism & hope, Empowerment, Tensions, Identity, Connectedness). Mainly young or middle-aged US-based adults self-report a bipolar disorder diagnosis on Reddit. Of these, those experiencing more intense emotions appear to be more likely to post in mental health support subreddits. Their personal recovery-related discussions in bipolar disorder subreddits primarily focussed on three domains: Purpose & meaning (particularly reproductive decisions, work), Connectedness (romantic relationships, social support), Empowerment (self-management, personal responsibility). Support forum data highlighted personal recovery issues that exclusively or more frequently came up online compared to previous evidence from interviews and focus groups.
Conclusion: This project is the first to analyse non-reactive data on personal recovery in bipolar disorder. Indicating the key areas that people focus on in personal recovery when posting freely and the language they use provides a helpful starting point for formal and informal carers to understand the concerns of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder and to consider how best to offer support.