Rachel Fergusson, External Affairs Officer, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
World Bipolar Day: Making financial and healthcare services work for people with bipolar
30 March 2023
Today is World Bipolar Day. It’s estimated that 1.3 million people in the UK live with bipolar, a condition characterised by fluctuations in mood, which can range from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression). World Bipolar Day is marked every year to encourage greater awareness and understanding of bipolar, and break down some of the harmful stereotypes and stigma which too often still accompany this condition.
At Money and Mental Health, our research looks at the common symptoms associated with a wide range of mental health conditions, and how they can impact on your finances. Our research has found that common symptoms of bipolar can make you particularly exposed to financial harm, especially during an episode of mania or depression. The lack of support in place to help people with their finances when they’re struggling can further increase that risk of harm, and make it significantly harder for people to recover from episodes of poor mental health.
It’s important to note that people living with bipolar can experience the condition differently. This blog explores some of the ways people’s finances can be affected by bipolar – and what changes we want to see to make the healthcare system and financial services industry work better to support people.
Understanding how bipolar can impact your finances
For many people with bipolar, changes in mood can come with changes in spending patterns. Impulsive spending is a common symptom of bipolar, where purchases are driven by impulses that may quickly dissipate. This is particularly common during manic episodes, and can lead to people spending large amounts of money on things they don’t need or can’t afford. During periods of depression, on the other hand, people can engage in spending as a way to alleviate feelings of low mood or low self-esteem.
“When manic I lose the ability to understand the consequences of my actions, I spend more money than I have often on things I think I need but don’t really e.g. a guitar which I don’t know how to play.” Research Community Member
We’ve heard from members of our Research Community about how the shift to online shopping – with 24/7 access and frictionless checkouts – can encourage and make it easier to act on these impulses, with little signposting or options to set spending limits.
The role of banks and financial services firms
A key focus of our work is helping essential services firms, like banks and utilities companies, understand the practical ways conditions like bipolar can impact on your ability to manage and stay on top of your finances. And, crucially, what they can do to help.
Dealing with your bank or energy company is a stressful and laborious task at the best of times, but when you’re experiencing low mood this can feel utterly overwhelming. Problems with clarity of thought, impulsivity and decision making associated with bipolar can also affect your ability to manage your money, for example remembering to make a payment or reading information about your account.
Training for front line staff about these practical barriers is crucial to enabling people with bipolar to get the help they need. Responding sensitively but proactively when someone discloses their condition – by offering extra support like money management tools or facilitating third party access – is a vital part of reducing the anxiety and distress that can build around dealing with your bank or utilities provider.
The need for more joined up money and mental health services
Given the deep links that exist between mental health problems and financial difficulty, integrating financial support into mental health services should be a priority for both the government and healthcare providers.
In a survey of almost 200 people with experience of secondary mental health care – such as Community Mental Health Teams and psychiatric hospitals – more than eight in ten respondents said they experienced a hit to their finances when they were receiving this care. Seven in ten reported that they struggled to pay for essentials, such as food and heating.
Those statistics underline the urgent need for discussions about money to take place routinely
in mental health settings, from proactive referral and signposting to debt and money advice services to making sure money worries are factored into support and recovery plans. These kinds of steps could go a long way in helping to mitigate the financial cost of getting help with your mental health – and ensuring people have the space to recover.
Turning talk into action
The link between mental health problems and financial harm is not inevitable. With the right support in place from health professionals, financial services and the benefits system, it’s possible to prevent people who are more at risk of financial harm from falling into financial difficulty. Understanding how different mental health conditions, including bipolar, can impact someone’s finances is the first step – but action must follow to improve support and design services with those links in mind.
If you’re in need of support with your mental health or finances, please visit our Get Help page here.
If you’d like to share your story and help make change, join our Research Community. Sign up here.