Why doesn't God say “enough”? Experiences of living with bipolar disorder in rural Ethiopia

Mekdes Demissie*, Charlotte Hanlon, Lauren Ng, Abebaw Fekadu, Rosie Mayston

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Rationale: Little is known about the specific experience people living with bipolar disorder in rural, low resource settings, where conditions that disrupt normal social interactions are often highly stigmatized and evidence-based treatments are rare. Objective: To explore illness experience, coping strategies, help-seeking practices, and consequences of illness among people with bipolar disorder (PBD) and their family members in rural Ethiopia as an initial step for developing psychosocial intervention grounded by the experiences of PBD. Method: A qualitative methods using in-depth interviews were carried out with 27 individuals (15 PBD and 12 caregivers). The participants were identified on the basis of previous community-based research among people with severe mental illness. Interviews were carried out in Amharic, audio-recorded, transcribed, and translated into English. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis. Our approach was informed by phenomenological theory. Result: Three major themes emerged: expressions and experiences of illness, managing self and living with otherness, and the costs of affliction. PBD and caregivers were concerned by different forewarnings of illness. Stigma and social exclusion were entwined in a vicious cycle that shaped both illness experience and the economic health and social life of the household. Nonetheless, PBD and caregivers learned from their experiences, developed coping strategies, and sought relief from trusted relationships, spirituality, and medication. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that psychosocial intervention could be used to strengthen existing resources, in order to improve the lives of PBD and their family members. However, pervasive stigma may be a barrier to group and peer support approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113625
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Bipolar disorder
  • Ethiopia
  • Lived experience
  • Phenomenology
  • Qualitative research
  • Severe mental illness
  • Stigma


Dive into the research topics of 'Why doesn't God say “enough”? Experiences of living with bipolar disorder in rural Ethiopia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this