Disability for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder- Can It Be Disabling?

Manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder, is a severe psychiatric condition that includes both depressive and manic symptoms. Mania is a mood characterized by euphoria, hyperactivity, fast-talking, rapid thoughts, and sometimes poor judgment. 

Mania is an expansive and elated mood that can cycle with severe bouts of depression in bipolar disorder. Cyclothymia is a less severe type of bipolar disorder. Some people experience “rapid cycling” of manic and depressive episodes, while others experience episodes lasting weeks or months at a time.

To be eligible for disability benefits for bipolar disorder, the diagnosis must be severe enough that either of the following applies, even with proper treatment:

  • You meet the basic criteria for bipolar disorder set out by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in its mood disorders disability listing 12.04.
  • You are unable to maintain the consistency and skill required to maintain a primary and unskilled job.

disability for bipolar disorder

Is bipolar a disability? Using the bipolar disorder listing to qualify for benefits.

It helps to already have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder I or II and a history of specific, documented symptoms causing a decline in your ability to maintain gainful employment or perform activities of daily living. In January 2017, this listing was significantly revised. You must now exhibit at least three of the following signs and symptoms to qualify. If you are 50 years of age or older, there may be less stringent criteria to qualify for the disability over 50 program. Let’s take a look at symptoms that your records might demonstrate:

  • Speech that is unnaturally quick and frantic (“pressured speech”)
  • “Flight of ideas” refers to the rapid change of ideas and thinking patterns.
  • Inflated sense of self-worth (usually with false beliefs)
  • Reduced need for sleep
  • Distractibility
  • Involvement in high-risk activities
  • Increased physical agitation (like pacing or a restless busyness) or goal-directed action (such as taking on new projects)

You may also have to meet “functional” requirements to demonstrate that your skills have been harmed due to these symptoms. In general, you must have a “marked” limitation in at least two of the following areas or an extreme limitation in at least one of them:

  • Comprehending, recollecting, or putting information to use (ability to understand instructions, learn new things, and apply new knowledge to tasks)
  • Collaborating with others (ability to use socially appropriate behaviors)
  • Focusing and keeping a steady pace while conducting tasks (ability to complete tasks)
  • Adjusting or managing one’s own condition (ability to control behavior, adapt to new situations, and have practical personal skills like paying bills, dressing, cooking).

If you are unable to prove that you actually have functional deficiencies described above because you have been living in a highly organized or secure environment or are receiving intensive care, you might also be required to satisfy the second set of functional requirements. If you meet the following conditions, you may be qualified for this second set of requirements:

  • Over the course of at least two years, your situation has been medically recorded as severe and chronic.
  • You have been living in a highly organized environment or have been undergoing regular medical or mental health care that has helped you manage your symptoms.
  • You have a limited ability to adjust to demands that are not already a part of your everyday routine or changes in your surroundings.

This second set of functional requirements acknowledges that specific individuals do not display symptoms like not coping well with others or being able to care for themselves because they live in highly secure and controlled environments that make their functional abilities look more robust than they would in real-life circumstances where the demands on them are more significant.

Individuals with bipolar disorder II often experience depression and hypomania, a relatively mild type of mania, and thus may lack the symptoms mentioned above. If the depression is severe enough, bipolar patients may be eligible for disability under the depression listing.

Can you get disability benefits for bipolar disorder?

Reduced Functional Capacity could play a crucial role in qualifying for benefits. If you do not meet the SSA’s criteria for bipolar disorder, the SSA would then determine how often bipolar symptoms interfere with your ability to function in daily life or while engaged in certain activities. For example, your RFC will take into consideration such abilities as following directions, remembering details, and using appropriate judgment when making decisions. 

The SSA will assign you a ranking based on the type of work it believes you are still capable of performing. The type of work you may be considered to still be able to perform would be categorized as skilled work, semi-skilled work, or unskilled work. 

This is why it can be difficult to receive SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Cyclothymia. As previously stated, cyclothymia is a bipolar disorder that is milder than a primary diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Cyclothymic syndrome is characterized by mood swings between depression and hypomania, a milder version of mania. 

On the other hand, those with cyclothymia are rarely eligible for disability benefits because they are normally able to function well with treatment. This, however, may not be the case for everyone. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, an experienced disability attorney can help you determine what benefits you may be entitled to.

Medical evidence for bipolar disorder-related disability

Your psychiatrist or other treating doctor can send your psychiatric medical report to the SSA upon request, detailing your entire bipolar disorder history, including evidence of any serious or violent manic episodes. Getting Bipolar Disorder benefits will be made easier with the help of a qualified attorney who understands what evidence will be necessary to obtain a decision in your favor. 

Your medical report should include any therapies you have tried, as well as any mood-stabilizing drugs you have been prescribed, such as lithium, carbamazepine, or valproic acid, as well as what your current prescription therapy is and whether you follow it consistently. 

Consistency is relevant to the SSA’s decision-making process because bipolar patients often take drug holidays due to the significant side effects of some of these drugs. Unfortunately, drug holidays can lead to problematic episodes. The SSA will want to know the efficacy of treatment when it is being followed consistently. 

The effectiveness and side effects of each drug, as well as how their side effects, in combination with your symptoms, affect your everyday habits, functioning, and ability to keep a job, should all be recorded in your medical record.

Submitting a disability claim 

If you have bipolar disorder and physical trauma that prevents you from working and the condition has lasted or is expected to last for a year or longer, than you can hire a Social Security Disability Attorney to help you file a social security for bipolar claim or, if your original claim is rejected, to file an appeal with the Social Security Administration.

A Chicago disability attorney will have in-depth knowledge of disability law. From knowledge of the eligibility criteria, medical documentation of relevant symptoms, to filing important documents within applicable time frames, and representing you at ALJ hearings, you can save a lot of time and energy by hiring seasoned legal professionals who will take care of everything, including the Appeals Process.

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