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Mental Health Awareness Week is just around the corner, so we thought it’d be a good time to talk about mental health. No better time, really.
Now, I know it’s not an easy subject to talk about – it’s a sensitive topic. But it really needn’t be. We shouldn’t shy away from talking about mental health. If we do, we’re reinforcing the stigma that it ought to be hidden away. If you’ve got a mental illness, you’ve got a mental illness. It’s not your fault, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
If you were walking down the street and you saw someone sat on the kerb with a broken leg, in pain, you’d stop and help, wouldn’t you? You’d ask them if they were alright, offer to call them an ambulance. You’d sit down with them and reassure them. ‘Cos when you see someone hurting, you help. You don’t look the other way. Why should it be any different for mental illness?
So, in this article, we’re going to be frank and open about mental health. I’m going to talk about the impact mental health can have on people’s finances, and I’m going to offer a potential solution. At the end, I’m going to point you in the direction of some resources that might be useful if you’re struggling with mental health.
I’m not a clinician and I’m by no means an expert on the subject, but I’m writing this with the best will in the world, so I’ll apologise now if anything I say is a little rough around the edges.
Money and mental health
Absolutely anyone can struggle with money. I saw a guy on Twitter the other day who’d managed to spend £41 on one bag of Pick n Mix. Rookie error, that. Everyone knows the scoop’s always deeper than it looks. I’m not great with it myself. Last week I went into a shop. I had no intention of buying anything. I left 10 minutes later, £50 worse off, with a bag full of books.
The point is, even for people without mental illnesses, money management can be difficult. If you’re struggling with mental health, it can be near impossible. You might find yourself unable to concentrate or think clearly about what you’re spending money on. You might not have it in you to plan out your finances, or you might be unable to control urges to spend. Whatever the situation, managing money whilst struggling with your mental wellbeing can be a monumental task.
As a case study, we’ll look at bipolar disorder. Bipolar’s a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood. Someone with bipolar’s mood can shift between feelings of elation and energy (manic episodes) to feelings of depression and lethargy (depressive episodes). They can last anywhere between a couple of days to several months.
When experiencing an episode – particularly a long one – it’s difficult to manage finances. In moments of mania especially, it’s common for people with bipolar to engage in risky behaviours, which can include going on spending sprees. When this happens, reason can become secondary to impulse. You see something. You feel like you have to have it. The money doesn’t matter – you’ll deal with that later. All that matters is that you need to buy it now. Before you know it, you’re zooming to the shops, waving your credit card. ‘Shut up and take my money!’ meme comes to life.
Joking aside, it’s a dangerous state to be in. Things can snowball quickly. It’s an easy way to find yourself in debt through no fault of your own. It’s pretty common to finish a manic episode and immediately enter a depressive one. Then it can be even harder to deal with the consequences of the spending spree.
Human instinct is to protect ourselves. If someone launched a ball at your head, you’d dodge, wouldn’t you? No one likes a smack in the nose. In the same way, if you’re feeling stressed out and anxious, you seek relief.
So, say you find yourself in debt. A bill comes through the post, an unknown number calls. What happens? You panic. You’re filled with dread. So you avoid it. The bill’s shoved, unopened, to the back of a drawer. The phone’s left to voicemail, then quickly deleted. It’s a problem for another day.
But the more you put off dealing with it, the worse the problem becomes, and the worse your mental state becomes. It’s known as an avoidance cycle. When you’re trapped in a cycle like this, it can seem impossible to get out of. Everyone needs help sometimes.
LPA: enter, stage right.
An LPA is a Lasting Power of Attorney. It’s a legal document you use to appoint people to act on your behalf. You basically choose someone (or multiple people) and allow them control over your affairs. Acting as someone’s attorney is a massive responsibility, so make sure you choose people you know will always act in your best interests. You choose how much power they have – you don’t have to let anyone control anything you’re not comfortable with.
There’re two types of LPA:
- Health & Welfare
We’ll start with finance, ‘cos, well, we’re talking about money and finance. Makes sense. If you struggle to look after your finances, you might want to look into setting up a Finance LPA.
With a Finance LPA, you can give control of your finances to those you trust. It can cover things like:
- Managing bank and building society accounts
- Collecting benefits and tax credits
- Dealing with debts
- Paying the mortgage
You get to choose what they can control, and you also choose when they have control. They can either act for you all the time, or only once you lose the mental capacity to make decisions for yourself. To clarify, episodes don’t count as losing mental capacity. Losing mental capacity means a complete inability to make decisions for yourself.
So, if your mental health seriously affects your money management, you might want to give your attorney control all the time. That way, if you find yourself in a sudden episode, they can protect you – freeze your cards to stop you spending, for example.
If you struggle with, say, depression, you might find talking on the phone a challenge. If you’re in debt, this can become an issue, ‘cos a lot of companies won’t deal with anyone except the account holder. It can end up a bit of a stalemate – you can’t talk to them, but they won’t talk to anyone else. If you’ve got an LPA, an attorney can act on your behalf. They can deal with it for you.
Knowing there’s someone sharing the load with you is a huge help – and sometimes, that’s what we need. Think about Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Would he have been able to destroy the One Ring by himself? No way, José. He’d have probably been wiped out by Ringwraiths the second his furry little feet left the Shire. No, Frodo needed the Fellowship. Gandalf guided him. Aragorn protected him. Sam carried him. They did it together.
And in the end, they prevailed. A seemingly impossible task was completed when everyone came together to help each other. Think about managing your finances as destroying the Ring. Your attorney(s) are your Fellowship. They can protect and guide you, and that makes the whole thing a million times easier.
Information About LPA Processing Times
Health & Welfare
Health & Welfare LPAs allow people to make medical decisions for you. While they don’t help you financially, they’re just as important – especially if you’re worried that you might lose your mental capacity in the future. Health & Welfare LPAs only come into action once you lose mental capacity. They can cover:
- What medical care you receive
- Who provides the care
- Who’s allowed to contact you
- Any decisions around life-sustaining treatments
If you are worried that you might lose the ability to make your own decisions, it’s worth looking into. Name someone you trust as your attorney. Let them know your wishes – you could even write them a guide. Then, you know that if you’re ever unable to look after yourself, there’s someone to do it who knows what you want.
Now I don’t want to put pressure on you at all, but if you are thinking about setting up an LPA, the sooner you do it, the better. You can’t leave it too late. If you’re not of a sound mental capacity, you can’t make one, and by then it’s too late. If you do think an LPA will be beneficial to you to help you manage your finances, then the sooner you act, the sooner you can start keeping your finances under control.
I thought it’d be nice to end my blog with a few useful resources for people struggling with mental illness:
If you’re ever struggling, please reach out. Never be afraid to ask for help. Remember that you’re not alone. Think of the Avengers, think of Harry, Ron and Hermione – of the Rebel Alliance, the Justice League, the Power Rangers, the Ninja Turtles, the A-Team. It’s a lot easier to get through things together than it is by yourself.