Why money is important to your quality of life
Staying on top of finances can be hard for everybody at certain times. But financial problems (such as poor financial decision-making, problems with controlling spending and gambling problems) may be especially challenging for a person who lives with bipolar disorder. Maybe you're someone who has always handled money well, spending within your means and making thoughtful decisions about purchases or investments. But then a bipolar disorder episode may get the best of you to the point that your careful arrangements might not work any more. Maybe a manic episode will sweep over you and before you know it, you find yourself putting your savings into unwise investment schemes.
Maybe you find yourself with such extraordinarily good ideas about getting rich that you can't see why you should even go to work: waking up early in the morning, commuting to your workplace, carrying out your usual job duties – these might appear pretty boring to someone in the midst of a manic flight. If you're lucky, these signs of mania will be identified by your employer as a health issue and you’ll be provided with the option of illness/disability absence.
Or maybe you feel so confident and blessed with good fortune that you stride into a casino or enter an online gambling site and proceed to gamble away money you have, or even worse, money you don’t have. Gambling is a quick and easy way to make yourself poor and reduce your quality of life, especially when you're in a manic episode. It has been shown in research studies that individuals with bipolar disorder are more likely to gamble and have a high frequency of problem gambling.1 2
Then you "wake up" after the mania and find yourself with half the savings you had before – feeling embarrassed and worried about your future. This might have a negative impact on your self-esteem, family functioning and confidence in moving forward. It might even trigger an episode of depression.
Speaking of which, a depressive episode can also have a negative effect on your financial situation. You might sink so low into a depressive state that you don't have the energy to carry out your job – once again, hopefully this will be identified as a health issue and you won't suffer employment problems. You also might find yourself trying to raise your mood by spending too much or in an impulsive way. Maybe you've always wanted a sports car and say to yourself, "it might make me feel better." Maybe you just take your mind off your troubles by shopping –compulsive or problem shopping is also relatively common in people with bipolar disorder. Or maybe you're so down that you don't renew an insurance policy or file your taxes, acts that can have negative effects down the road. Whatever form it takes, you'll eventually need to face the negative results of bipolar disorder-driven financial decisions.
It can be frustrating and very difficult to fix these financial problems after a manic or depressive episode, when you are feeling more stable and are in a position to better understand that the decisions you made were poor ones. Remember, the casinos won't give your money back if you explain to them that you were manic at the time. Nor will you necessarily get your money back from stores or investment schemes.
Finally, our description of the relationship between bipolar disorder and handling finances wouldn't be complete if we left out the possibility that people with bipolar disorder might at times benefit financially from the increased risk taking and creative planning that may go with the condition. Research shows that some individuals with bipolar disorder report that it has increased their abilities to creatively and energetically tackle a wide range of real-world problems3. It’s reasonable to assume that for some individuals, bipolar disorder delivers improved financial outcomes (or results), at least some of the time.4 But these cases are likely rare compared to those in which bipolar disorder is linked with financial hardship.
How you can take action
The best time to protect yourself from bipolar disorder-driven financial decisions is when you are feeling stable! When your judgment is balanced, your mood is fairly level and your energy is appropriate, you're in the best position to plan ahead, in some cases with your family or someone you trust to reduce the risk of bad financial decisions.
How can this be done?
- Find a trusted helper. A helper is someone you really trust who will act to safeguard your financial interests if you aren't able to make safe decisions. This person could be a parent, sibling, partner, or perhaps a peer support worker. This person may be given power of attorney so that they are able to take control of your savings, credit card and chequing account if you clearly are in a manic or depressive episode such that you cannot trust yourself to make safe money decisions.
- Limit your risk. Make arrangements with your bank to protect yourself from dangerous spending while you're in a manic or depressive episode. This might involve setting limits on your credit card transactions and withdrawals from accounts, or setting up a 2-signature system in which your designated helper must co-sign to allow major cash withdrawals. You can make an appointment to discuss this with a financial advisor or other staff member at your bank.
- Improve your money management skills. We can all get better at managing money, but having a keen eye to developing effective money management skills is extra important for people living with bipolar disorder. In a recent research study of individuals in psychiatric rehabilitation programs, improving money management skills was identified as one of the most important goals.5
- Develop an overall money plan. This might involve activities like tracking your spending using an app, deciding how much of your income will be managed by a family member or setting priorities for your spending. Sometimes healthcare providers are available to help with this decision-making process.
- Make an emergency plan. Work out a plan for times of risk with the people you trust. This might include recognition of warning signs that show others that you're moving into a manic or depressive episode or the recognition of your personal triggers for impulsive or unwise spending. These financial protections will need to be discussed in advance with bank representatives and appropriate authorizations will need to be signed so that someone you trust can protect your finances.
- Alert healthcare providers. Sometimes manic or depressive episodes can be made less severe when they are just beginning (or emerging) by increasing or adding medications. Your healthcare provider may be able to quickly step in and prevent bipolar disorder financial crises.
But these actions may not be enough to prevent significant financial difficulty for individuals with bipolar disorder. If your condition is such that you cannot hold down a job, then you will need to seek other forms of financial support. Many countries offer some kind of disability support for those who are unable to work because of serious health conditions like bipolar disorder. This may be through a public plan (sometimes called a disability pension) or through a private insurance carrier. Note that the process of applying for a public disability pension can be very demanding, so you may need to find support in completing the application process. Your healthcare provider should be able to refer you to an agency where you can find this kind of assistance.