Is your cash flow as boundless as your energy right now, as free-flowing as all these recent purchases? Or is this a symptom of bipolar mania?
For many, feeling emboldened is often a positive force in “adulting.” But when you’re experiencing symptoms of bipolar mania, that internal spark can trigger impulsive actions that can have long-term consequences on your finances.
Approximately 5.7 million people in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder every year — that’s twice as many folks who went skydiving in 2020. And that’s also how mood shifts from mania can feel: sometimes exhilarating, terrifying, stretched beyond limit, then slack. And over again.
Whether you live with bipolar I, which centers around mania, bipolar II, which shifts between a slightly less intense mania and depression, or mixed episodes, which are earmarked for both mania and depression simultaneously, the overall condition can cause your energy levels to fluctuate.
Bipolar disorder can also affect your concentration, perception, and decision-making. Let’s break this down so we can build you up with insight and tools.
Bipolar disorder comes with a range of symptoms with varying intensity, including:
- feelings of intense depression and despair
- manic feelings of extreme happiness
- mixed moods such as depression with restlessness and overactivity
The disorder can also lead to impulsive spending sprees, usually during an episode of mania.
During an episode of mania, you will likely feel energized and powerful. During a depressive episode, your mood may fall to indifference or hopelessness.
Though you may find yourself on a spending spree during any bipolar phase, overspending is often linked to mania.
What clinical experts say
The reference guide on all things psychiatric is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.), known as DSM-5. It catalogs mental health conditions for clinicians.
According to the DSM-5, one of the hallmark symptoms of mania is “excessive involvement in pleasurable activities with high potential for painful consequence.”
The manual gives specific examples of:
- unrestrained buying sprees
- compulsive sexual behavior
- impulsive business investments
Studies on excessive spending during mania and depression
Research presented in 2017 on people managing bipolar disorder clarified motivations and emotions that induced spending sprees. Participants reported the cycle of spending money because they already feel good, followed by guilt, remorse, anxiety, depression, then spending to feel good.
What people managing bipolar disorder say about their overspending
Dr. Thomas Richardson, a principal clinical psychologist in Portsmouth, England, interviewed 44 people living with bipolar disorder and led a focus discussion group with six. He reports some recurring themes, quoted from participants:
- “[I’m] prone to burying head in the sand, ignoring demands for payments.”
- “Impulsive purchases… will spend all that I have when I am manic or hypo-manic.”
- “I became high and gave away all my savings to charity 4 years ago.”
- “It’s a vicious cycle. I realise I’m spending and putting my family in financial stress and leads to larger depression. This then leads to comfort spending again.”
- “During down periods, I essentially comfort spend.”
Excessive generosity and spending may seem like a good idea at the time, but it can negatively impact your personal finances. You’re not alone in this.
Though it may not be easy to control urges to spend or give money away, there are steps you can take to help prevent sprees when experiencing an episode of mania.
A supportive inner circle
Support from those who understand compulsive spending during an episode of mania may help you recognize when your spending becomes a problem. Your inner circle can often identify mania early and can help you safeguard your finances.
One credit card only
If you have only one card with a low limit, you’ll not be able to spend excessively.
Restricting online access
Having someone password-protect or restrict internet access may prevent impulsive or potentially consequential behaviors, including online shopping.
An IT professional can set up restrictions through your browser settings or add budget apps and extensions for a nominal fee.
A monthly allowance could be beneficial
You can create a budget based on your pay periods. Also, consider paying with cash and reserve your cards for necessities.
Can someone pick up your mail?
Credit companies often send incentives and offers in the mail. If you can, have someone get your mail to filter out the credit offers and retail direct mail.
Another consideration is opting out of credit card offers altogether, using a tool like this. You’ll stop receiving catalogs and email prompts by registering here.
Consider a professional accountant or power of attorney
If you don’t have someone you can trust with your finances, a professional service can help you budget and curb spending when you’re experiencing an episode of mania.
A spending log can set boundaries
Having someone you can trust can be a critical part of preventing a spending spree. You can talk with loved ones or friends or get professional assistance. Not only will you be able to limit your spending, but you’ll also have a support network in place during bipolar disorder treatment.
How do you work on restoring financial stability while living with bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder doesn’t mean you have to accept debt. Options include:
Accountants and other finance professionals can help you get out of debt. Besides budgeting your money and finding areas you can consolidate, they may direct you to local resources for debt relief assistance.
Bankruptcy is advised as a last resort if your debt has gotten out of control and repayment is not possible. Declaring bankruptcy will erase some — if not all — of your debt but does come with long-term credit score consequences.
No credit means no credit score for some time, so exercising caution if you’ll need a car loan or are considering a major purchase would be a wise move. A bankruptcy attorney can discuss your options.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
SSDI offers financial assistance for people living with bipolar disorder. You can speak with your local Social Security office to see if payments may be available to you for debt relief.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program
SSI funds may be available to you if you’ve lived with bipolar disorder for more than 2 years, have strong symptoms, and are in a treatment program.
Try contacting your bank and credit holders
Financial institutions want you to keep making payments. If you default on your loans, they may never see any money. For this reason, many are willing to work with you to create payment schedules or to consolidate debt.
You may want to contact your local financial professional or banking institution for debt consolidation services that are right for you.
Setting up automatic payments
When you don’t have to think about paying a bill, you are less likely to change the amount you want to pay. You may want to set up automatic payments with the extra money going toward the debt principal. This will help you pay extra without having to think about it.
For some, mania can feel like an unraveling from the inside out. Impulsive behaviors may patch the fray for a short time, but they can ultimately result in irreparable damage.
You may not realize when an episode of bipolar disorder mania prompts behaviors that can result in social, interpersonal, legal, or financial consequences. But there is hope — and you can have a backup plan.
Having internet browser restrictions, a cash budget for casual spending, and one limited credit card are options.
Also, an inner circle with whom you can lean on for accountability and support can help you prevent spending sprees and impulsive financial investments before your wallet foots the bill.
You can take a deeper dive into creating a plan of action to best bipolar disorder here.