Childbirth is an established trigger for the onset of bipolar disorders (BD) in the postpartum period, causing significant pathology and disability. Research has shown that the stigma of mental illness for new mothers is a powerful obstacle to care, preventing women from accessing critical treatment and social support. However, the majority of research has examined the relationship between the stigma and postpartum depression, leaving a gap in knowledge regarding stigma and postpartum bipolar disorder. The problem addressed in this grounded theory study was the lack of knowledge regarding the stigma of a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (BD) in the first year postpartum. A theoretical sample of 15 women given a clinical diagnosis of a BD in the first year postpartum participated in one, 60-90-minute recorded interview using semi-structured questions. I analyzed typed interview transcripts using open, axial, and selective coding according to grounded theory methods. Emergent categories: Diagnosis, Experiencing Stigma, and Lack of Understanding revealed the relief in the initial diagnosis and the subsequent experience of stigma in the form of stigmatizing stereotypes, prejudicial attitudes and discrimination, and the development of the belief that stigma was caused by universal lack of understanding regarding BD. The core category of Born Out of Fear was identified. Selective coding confirmed that the stigma experienced by participants was consistent with existing models of stigma, with the exception that women did not describe their babies or other children as components of the experience of stigma. Increased understanding of the stigma of mental illness for new mothers creates pathways for future research.


Stigma, Bipolar Disorder, Postpartum, Grounded Theory

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Walker Ladd has been a thought-leader in the field of maternal mental health for over a decade. Her first book, Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth (Praeclarus, 2015), was based on her grounded theory study of the transformative nature of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. She currently serves as Lead Faculty and University Research Methodologist the School of Advanced Studies at the University of Phoenix. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: WalkerLadd@email.phoenix.edu.

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