How People With Mental Illness Can Weather-Proof Finances for Bumpy Spending Patterns

Melbourne street artist Akemi Ito* once maxed out a credit card in a single day buying $3500 of homewares online.

"Back then I could get credit cards," he says of the time in the late 1990s. "Now my credit history is so appalling I can't get credit cards."

As someone living with bipolar, the 39 year-old's spending spree arose out of a manic episode. More recently, his manic episodes have led him down the path of borrowing from pay-day lenders charging a monthly interest rate of 34 per cent.

How People With Mental Illness Can Weather-Proof Finances for Bumpy Spending Patterns Photo: article supplied

His manic period might last about three months and is often followed by about five months of depression. While he's reached championship levels in archery; put his electronics skills to work at Siemens; and initiated pop-up shows of his art in his life, it's difficult to maintain regular employment. He now lives on a disability support pension.

"At present I've managed to actually save a little money, which is pretty impressive, but I'm well aware that when the next manic phase starts that it will probably disappear fairly quickly and there's not a lot I can do to stop it," he says.

As his experiences show, mental health challenges can make it difficult to manage money.

SANE Australia psychiatrist and board director Dr Mark Cross says people might also give away their possessions during a manic episode. "I've got a couple of patients who in the past have saved and got stuff like laptops and then they just give them away from a sense of largesse and feeling fantastic."

That can have knock-on effects for those closest to them, in particular a spouse or partner.

"It's a very stressful time because they've got joint accounts or they come home to find that their possessions have been given away or they are getting letters weeks later saying their credit cards have been maxed-out or your money is being spent on hire purchase," says Cross.

Recurring depression can also impact someone's ability to handle their financial affairs. Dr Stephen Carbone, research and evaluation leader, Beyond Blue, explains the low mood and loss of interest in usual activities associated with depression are usually accompanied by changes in thinking that make it harder to problem solve or tackle problems: "You often feel your concentration, your focus, your memory, your ability to do those higher-level tasks can be disrupted and those things are important in money management."

With one in four Australians expected to face a mental health issue in their lifetime, such challenges are not just experienced by a minority.

This article was originally published by the Sydney Morning Herald.

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