Don't Let Bipolar Disorder Break the Bank!

A manic episode can blur your financial judgment. Some ways to head off fiscal disaster, from The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide.

Excerpted with permission from The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide, by David J. Miklowitz, PhD: 

Bipolar disorder makes managing money much harder than it would ordinarily be. When a manic episode is in full swing—or even on the horizon—people with bipolar disorder often go on spending sprees or invest wildly. That’s because mania tends to generate “hyperpositive thinking”—overestimating the ability to achieve (for example, make a lot of money) and underestimating the risks (for example, going into debt) of certain behaviors. It can be hard to step back from overly optimistic thoughts and evaluate them objectively. In fact, some people equate imagining being able to do something with actually being able to do it.

If you have bipolar disorder, here are some typical ways in which you might experience hyperpositive thinking when it comes to your finances. You and your loved ones should treat them as signals that you may be about to experience a manic episode:


·    You suddenly believe you’ve found quick answers to financial problems that have been plaguing you for years.
·    You become enthralled with “get rich quick” or “pyramid” schemes.
·    You find yourself unusually preoccupied with money or merchandise, and feel driven to purchase expensive things.
·    You think that you must have those things sooner rather than later, or else you’ll be “ripped off.”
·    You believe that your finances are virtually unlimited.
·    You feel impatient or frustrated with your significant other for telling you that you can’t afford something.

You may not be able to prevent these thoughts from occurring, but there are some concrete steps you can take when they first appear to head off a financial disaster. The idea is to decrease your access to the means of implementing your plans. Some ways to do that:

·    Have someone else hold on to your credit cards.
·    Don’t go to the bank without bringing someone you trust with you.
·    Stay away from your favorite stores.
·    Don’t tune in to television stations whose primary purpose is to sell goods.
·    Never give your credit card numbers or bank account information to telemarketers or investment counselors who call you with their special deals (an advisable practice even when you’re feeling well, of course!).
·    Don’t make sudden changes in, or withdrawals from, your retirement accounts.
·    Steer clear of online stock trading, and don’t invest in the stock market at all.
·    When you’re well, make it logistically difficult to get hold of large sums in a short period of time. For example, spread your money in small amounts across several accounts in different banks, or keep the majority of it in a joint account that requires a cosigner for a withdrawal.

If you work closely with an investment counselor, it may be possible to entrust him with information about your illness so that he can stop you from investing too wildly or irrationally. Consider asking him to set an upper limit on how much money you can exchange within a single transaction.

Of course, maintaining these kinds of controls over your finances implies that your thinking is still fairly rational and that you can make good decisions. Rational thought is often possible during the early (prodromal) phase of mania—another reason to catch your episodes at the beginning. But once symptoms have accelerated, it becomes difficult to make logical decisions of any type. At that point, a person with bipolar disorder may become highly resentful of anyone else’s intervention. By getting a significant other or some other reliable person involved early in the escalation process and trusting them enough to take your credit cards, provide final signatures on investments or offer input into your spending decisions, you may be able to avoid a major financial collapse.

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