A bipolar spree aiming to spend £131 million

A week ago, I announced the launch of the new Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. I’ve set it up to look at a range of measures to prevent the marriage made in hell that is debt and mental illness. You can read full details on what it’s about and what it’ll do here.

On the back of it, I’ve had many incredible messages. Many tough-to-read ones – I’d lie if I said my eyes hadn’t glistened at times. The more I read the more I know change is desperately needed. I wanted to share one particular message with you though – to give a flavour of the difficulties faced in extremis and the varying attitudes toward mental illness. It was an email from an old colleague of mine, who is now retired.

I have his permission to share it with you – but not the person it is about. So, I have changed some facts to mask their identity, whilst retaining the flavour of the story. However, so you can identify them, I haven’t changed the names of the firms mentioned.

Hi Martin,

It’s John, very long time no speak.

Since I am on your newsletter list, I have just watched your video on mental health and money. From personal experience I know that these are desperately-needed measures you are talking about.

We have a neighbour who is bipolar and became ill just before summer. Before she went away for treatment she went on a spending spree. This showed us the vastly different attitudes of businesses to the problem.

She spent several thousand pounds with Guardian Books, money she could not afford and books she did not want, up to ten copies of some editions. The company were brilliant. I was able to take the books back and got her a full refund.

BT were very understanding. She had phoned up to complain about her internet problems and they had persuaded her to take out fibre and have a new mobile phone. However, I was able to cancel both despite not being a relative.

Unfortunately, she was released before she was well, and at the time believed she had £131,000,000 in the bank, so started spending ‘it’. A local retailer managed to sell her several expensive items, despite the fact it was obvious from her manner at this time that she was unwell.

Her cousin arrived at her house to find them changing the television. The cousin was told she could not get some channels so they were taking the TV away for repair, and lending another while it was away. However, it transpired they took away a perfectly good, fairly new, top-of-the-range, 50-inch television, and sold her a smaller, very complicated replacement.

I am not sure she will cope with this one. When her cousin went to the shop, and consequently contacted the managing director, he received the reply, “Data protection, we cannot talk to you”.

During earlier episodes her husband was alive to cope with the financial problems, but he has passed away, and she had not thought to arrange Power of Attorney for her only relative, her cousin. [Always a good thing to consider for everyone – see our Power of Attorney guide – ML.]

So, at the moment all her affairs are in limbo, as it is not possible to arrange a Power of Attorney in her present state. The only alternative, a Court of Protection order, is far too expensive, complicated and intrusive to be of any use. This is another problem that needs to be addressed. There is a need for a quick, inexpensive, maybe short-term solution to look after someone’s affairs if they have problems. [This is the type of idea we’re looking at with the policy institute – ML.]

When my wife saw her last week, she was still saying she had hundreds of thousands of pounds, and she had applied for a dozen credit cards to be able to spend it. Up to now she has only spent her savings, but if someone does give her a credit card, I dread to think what could happen. The ability of her cousin, perhaps with the aid of her doctor, to contact her banks and put a stop on her card spending would have saved a great deal of angst, and much of her meagre savings.

So thank you very much for your efforts, from someone who knows the problems only too well!


This is just one of many messages I’ve received. And what it does show is there are great relatives, friends and even neighbours like John who care and take an interest. But we need to allow people to protect themselves when they’re well from themselves when they’re not.

If you are affected by reading this or know others struggling, read my Free Mental Health and Debt Help PDF guide to see what options are available.

Thoughts welcome below.