Author: Sam Bowman
Bipolar disorder is a challenging condition to live with. These challenges aren’t just because of the symptoms. It can affect all aspects of your life — personal or professional alike.
This is why effective treatment is vital. However, there are some significant financial hurdles to treatment for many people living with bipolar disorder. Understanding what these hurdles are can offer routes to managing them effectively.
The difficult reality of both bipolar disorders is that both conditions include symptoms that can exacerbate financial burdens.
One common component of the manic phase of bipolar disorder is overspending. The sense of euphoria can lead some people with this condition to spend more money than they have or even go into debt to support their spending. When left unchecked, the financial outlay can mean patients aren’t able to afford the treatment they need.
The depressive phase of bipolar disorder can also present financial challenges. Particularly in the extremes of low mood, people with bipolar disorder may feel unable to work or perform well in their jobs. When they don’t have employer support or paid sick days, this can lead to a drop in income that can make the costs of treatment impractical.
There are also systemic contributors to the financial barriers to treatment for those navigating bipolar disorder. It is certainly a significant issue — 60% of people who haven’t sought treatment for their mental illness report that unaffordable services are one of the top reasons they remain untreated. Aside from making treatment itself more affordable, understanding the systemic issues is valuable in reducing barriers.
For one, there is a serious racial disparity in the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder for Black patients compared to their white counterparts. This isn’t just financially problematic from the perspective that patients may end up spending more on testing before receiving an effective quality of care.
These injustices and negative psychological experiences may result in intergenerational trauma for successive relatives. Descendents may experience anxiety, hypervigilance, and depression due to their forebears’ experiences. If these successors also experience bipolar disorder, the additional trauma may make it more difficult and expensive to receive treatment.
In addition, the U.S. healthcare system sees employees often dependent on employers’ contributions to healthcare benefits. Unfortunately, the extent of different insurance plans may be limited, meaning employees may still not be able to afford treatment. Not to mention that lack of paid sick days or mental health days may worsen the financial burden on people that are actively experiencing symptoms.
Reducing the Barriers
It’s important to recognize that while bipolar disorder is a challenging experience, many of the financial barriers can be addressed. However, the most positive impact must come from a shared commitment to provide resources and implement change.
The effective approaches can include:
As a person living with bipolar disorder, the primary responsibility for change comes from within. It’s important to gain insights into behavior, potential intergenerational traumas, and the early warning signs of symptoms that tend to eventually result in additional financial hardships. This can help them to implement preventative measures or reach out for support at a time in which it is most impactful.
Employers play an important role in helping employees that live with bipolar disorder. Wherever possible, the company should provide subsidized access to mental health services and paid mental health days. If comprehensive health coverage is too expensive, offering voluntary employee benefits can help businesses meet workers’ needs in a cost-effective way. Employees can select from a range of services in line with their individual needs, making smaller additional payroll contributions as a result of better group rates.
Providers are often the direct point at which those with bipolar disorder experience financial barriers. While services are valuable, providers need to understand their price choices can impact patients’ lives. Providers can establish payment plans or membership plans for patients who are looking for alternative payment methods outside of insurance. The best way to ensure patients receive the care they need for bipolar disorder, however, is by ensuring patients aren’t responsible for any payment. Providers can ensure this through pro-bono work, or by connecting patients toward grants and other forms of treatment support, such as those offered by the PAN Foundation’s Bipolar Disorder Assistance Program.
Acknowledging the financial barriers to bipolar treatment is essential to effectively address them. Some are the direct result of symptoms of the condition, while others are systemic in nature. Patients, employers, and healthcare professionals must collaborate in arranging resources to mitigate the financial pressures that prevent so many people from getting the care they deserve.