As the cost of living crisis continues into its third year, many in the UK face unprecedented financial pressures. Experts are raising alarms about the significant health risks this poses, particularly highlighting the deterioration of suicidal thinking among over a million UK residents living with bipolar.
Recent findings suggest that financial worries are a major trigger for relapses in bipolar episodes. An estimated 390,000 people in the UK living with bipolar have identified money concerns as a key factor in their condition’s exacerbation. Moreover, research indicates that nearly half of the UK’s bipolar community is grappling with some form of debt, with one in five experiencing what they describe as “out of control” debt.
Simon Kitchen, CEO of Bipolar UK, underscores the gravity of the situation: “As we enter the third year of the cost of living crisis, a recent Natwest survey revealed that 84% of people believe this January is the toughest yet when it comes to their finances. A drop in retail sales last December by 3.2% also shows that families across the UK are tightening their spending due to widespread money worries. This is putting more pressure on the millions of people in the UK living with or affected by bipolar, and it all increases the risk of relapse.”
For individuals with bipolar disorder, a relapse signifies the return of episodes of depression or hypomania. Bipolar UK, the nation’s sole charity dedicated to supporting those affected by bipolar, highlights that individuals with this condition often earn significantly less than the national average. The most frequently reported income bracket for those living with bipolar is between £10,000 and £20,000 annually, starkly lower than the 2023 UK average income of £35,000.
Furthermore, a quarter of the survey’s respondents cited ‘welfare benefits’ as their primary income source, despite many having higher education backgrounds. This disparity underscores the critical need for accessible treatment and support.
Kitchen adds: “Lower than average incomes combined with the sustained issues around the cost of living are causing serious problems for the bipolar community. Overspending during a hypomanic or manic episode is also a common symptom and people with bipolar disorder tell us they often buy things they don’t want or need and later regret them. The ongoing stress of accumulated debt then exacerbates the likelihood of another episode.”
Bipolar UK is proactively offering free resources to those living with bipolar disorder. These include a call-back and email peer support line, in-person peer support groups nationwide, and an e-community. The organisation also provides tips for managing well-being during the current financial crisis.
Kitchen emphasises the uniqueness of each person’s experience with bipolar disorder: “It’s estimated that at least half a million people are currently living with undiagnosed bipolar. With diagnosis time still taking on average 9.5 years, we want to equip people with the right tools and support so they can get a diagnosis and live well, and this includes helping them to manage any financial worries. Not everyone experiences bipolar in the same way.
“It is an extremely complex condition where people experience a range of emotions that are much more intense than the emotions someone without a mood disorder will experience. In a recent survey, 50% of people with a diagnosis of bipolar told us they had relapsed at least once. Avoiding triggers, as well as quickly managing symptoms, is essential when it comes to the self-management of bipolar. Stress can be a trigger, which is why getting on top of finances and minimising money worries is so crucial.”