Despite the increasing awareness and acceptance of mental illnesses as genuinely disabling conditions, diseases such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders and schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder are still widely misunderstood. Even when family, friends, and employers are sensitive to a disorder, mental illnesses have many consequences, including a major loss in income and wealth if sufferers are forced to leave the work force early.

According to an Australian study, people who suffered from mental illnesses had an average of half of the accumulated wealth of similarly situated, but healthy, peers who were near retirement age. The study, which surveyed more than 8,000 people between the ages of 45 and 64, found that people with depression disorders had an average value of $236,000, while those with schizophrenia and anxiety disorders averaged $148,000. In comparison, those with no mental illness had an average value of $398,000.

Researchers attribute this significant disparity in wealth to the fact that people suffering from mental disorders are often forced to leave the work force early. “What it shows us is that if you do have mental illnesses your chances of being in the labour force are much, much lower,” said Professor Deborah Schofield, one of the researchers in the study. “As a result, you have much less capacity to save.” Schofield elaborated that those who have lowered career earnings due to a mental disorder are often ill-prepared for retirement, and find themselves with much less financial independence in later years.

Some of the financial pressure created by a mental disorder can be alleviated by filing for and receiving Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income. However, as with any other SSD/SSI claim, proof of the disability and its effects must be provided to the Social Security Administration, which can be a difficult process.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, “Mental illness can bring a massive paycut“, Danny Rose, 2 February 2011