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Bipolar Disorder and Excessive Spending

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 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 closest 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.

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 before or between major 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 who’s income stream has been interrupted by repeated episodes of mania and/or depression.

Issues of money and mental illness can exacerbate an episode.  One of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder 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.



Bipolar Disorder and Excessive Spending

George Hofmann

George is the author of Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis, from Changemakers Books. Visit George's site or join the Facebook group Practicing Mental Illness

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APA Reference
Hofmann, G. (2019). Bipolar Disorder and Excessive Spending. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Sep 2019
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