Lifting the Veil on Invisible Identities: A Grounded Theory of Self-Disclosure for College Students with Mood Disorders
Farzad Nawabi, Partamin
McEwen, Marylu K.
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Little research exists about college students with mood disorders and their unique developmental issues. Previous studies of college students with disabilities have largely focused on physical and learning disabilities. In response to this gap in the current literature, this study explored how undergraduate students with mood disorders make decisions about self-disclosure while in college and the factors and influences that contribute to their decisions. This research holds the promise of increasing visibility for this hidden and otherwise invisible student population. This qualitative inquiry, the product of a constructivist paradigm, used grounded theory methodology to develop a deeper understanding of the participants' experiences related to self-disclosure. Nine participants were identified through theoretical and purposive sampling. Each participant was enrolled in an undergraduate program at a large, Mid-Atlantic university, and was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder by a mental health professional. Three participants were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and three with major depressive disorder. In addition to these six participants, three participants who were initially diagnosed with major depression were rediagnosed with bipolar disorder by their psychiatrists. Participants were interviewed three times during a five-month period. The data were collected through in-depth interviewing and document analysis. Data analysis generated one core category and five key categories, which collectively formed the emergent theory that explored self-disclosure for college students with mood disorders. The core category, describing the main theme of the students' stories of self-disclosure, was Lifting the Veil. The key categories were Receiving Diagnosis, Constructing an Illness Identity, Impact of Stigma, Perceived Campus Support, and Attributes of Personality. Peer debriefers confirmed the study's credibility and an inquiry auditor substantiated the dependability of the final analysis. The grounded theory that emerged from this research offers a framework for understanding how college students with mood disorders make decisions about self-disclosure. The findings of this study suggest important recommendations for how students, faculty, and staff may best demonstrate support for college students with mood disorders in the effort to positively influence their self-disclosure experiences as well as to promote the development of more inclusive and hospitable environments for these students.