Money Troubles and Mental Health

No one can blow through money quite like a person in a manic episode. I’ve flown across the country to buy an expensive piece of art. I’ve pulled into a car dealership and bought an Acura with my American Express card. Years later, when my executive job was gone and I missed two small payments, Amex cancelled the card. If only I’d locked it away.

The irony is I worked in finance. I knew well the need for reserve savings and tucked-away long-term investments. I still spent it all.

That was when I kept my bipolar disorder, rather than my bank accounts, hidden, even from those close to me. Oh, I was fun to be around. I was always dragging people into well-funded parties or luxury vacations. My resources seemed to have no end.

Until they were gone. All that was left was debt.

Half (46%) of the people with problem debt also have a mental health challenge, and 89% of them say that financial difficulties have made their mental illness worse.

One in five (18%) people with a psychiatric diagnosis face problem debt. Only 5% of the population without a mental illness do.

Paying back debt is difficult and the financial repercussions of debt one can’t handle can drag a person down for years. A poor credit report takes incredible discipline and dozens of credit cycles to clean up.  Bankruptcy will stay on your records for seven (chapter 13) to ten (chapter 11) years.

The results of overspending and adding to debt can be deadly.  People in major depression who hold problem debt are 4.2 times more likely to still be in depression 18 months after the debt was incurred, and those facing problem debt are three times more likely to commit suicide than people with debt they can manage, or no debt at all.

One of the most common symptoms of mood disorders is compulsive and irrational spending. Just as with other symptoms, we need to mitigate and minimize this.  One must have a promising future to look forward to, and money earned and saved is a big part of a secure future. We must save when possible, and stop overspending.

Are there any strategies one can use to avoid overspending?

1.     Keep a low limit on credit cards and do not store your credit card information on on-line shopping sites.

2.     Always delay discretionary purchases by two weeks. You’ll be shocked at how many things you decide you don’t need 14 days later.

3.     When an episode begins, lock the cards away or give them to someone you trust. Go cash only. Don’t forget to hand over the ATM card, too.

4.     Hold your savings in joint accounts with a partner or trusted family member and set up these accounts so that both of you must approve any withdrawals of more than $200.

5.     Never take a loan from an IRA or 401k. Not for anything.

6.     Prohibit yourself from making financing or investment decisions alone.

7.     In extreme cases, or if you just can’t exercise the self-discipline necessary to remain financially healthy, consider appointing someone very trustworthy to be your financial power of attorney.

All of this seems like a terrible loss of control, and in the grandiosity of mania one is unlikely to implement any of it, so you need to set these constraints in place between episodes.

Don’t feel too reigned-in. Everyone must give up a bit of freedom for financial responsibility and financial security. Especially those of us whose income stream has been interrupted by repeated episodes of mania and/or depression.

Once you get a handle on spending and some savings are earned that feeling of freedom will return. Just always keep in mind that it must be given balance by sound money management.



I’m increasingly skeptical of the new age spirituality that infuses many features on meditation. Practices aimed at self-improvement through self-development soon come off as self-absorbed and narcissistic. Soon, the compassion and sense of no-self that underlies traditional, religious meditative practices are gone. Sure, meditation may make us feel good. But good for what?

I think we need to recall that meditation was a religious practice for centuries before the self-help industry got a hold of it. On the other hand, some would argue the trappings of these traditions are unnecessary and that at the core of meditation, and spirituality, is pure neuroscience. While I’m sure the truth is in the middle, this point of view is worth considering.

You’ll find this consideration here in an article about religious skeptic Sam Harris. It’s worth it just for the comments on social media and boredom.

Competing meditation camps all clamor for authority, and even I am guilty of proclaiming one method of practice better than all others. Perhaps what we’ve lost, and what should be a primary result of any meditation practice, is an open mind.