Slowly but surely, the stigma around mental illness is being erased. People are more willing to talk about their mental health, which has made it easier — and more acceptable — for individuals to seek treatment for mental illness.
Despite the many advances in medication and therapy, in some cases, mental health conditions are still disabling. This is sometimes the situation with bipolar disorder. For individuals with this condition, it may be difficult to impossible to hold down a job while managing the symptoms of their illness and receiving treatment. This can be particularly true if you experience periods of remission and relapse, or good days and bad days.
Bipolar disorder affects an estimated 4.4% of American adults at some point in their lives. The majority of people with bipolar disorder (82.9%) are seriously impaired by their condition — which may affect their ability to work. As with other mental health conditions, people with bipolar disorder may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers bipolar disorder as one of many mental illnesses that may qualify for benefits. A skilled disability attorney can work with individuals with bipolar disorder to analyze their individual situation and put together a strong application.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder (previously known as manic-depressive disorder) is a mental illness that is characterized by unusual shifts in mood, energy and activity levels. People who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder often have varying abilities to carry out daily tasks. Bipolar disorder involves clear changes in mood, from manic, highly energized periods to more depressed, sad times.
There are four primary types of bipolar disorder. They include:
1. Bipolar I Disorder: the most severe type of bipolar disorder, this type includes manic episodes that last for at least seven (7) days or that are so severe that they require hospitalization. Depressive episodes usually last for at least two (2) weeks.
2. Bipolar II Disorder: this type has both depressive and manic episodes, but with less extreme manic periods.
3. Cyclothymic Disorder: also known as cyclothymia, this type involves numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms and depressive symptoms for at least two (2) years.
4. Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders: this type involves bipolar symptoms that do not meet the criteria for one of the other diagnoses.
Signs and symptoms of a manic bipolar disorder episode include:
- Feel very “up,” “high,” or elated
- Have a lot of energy
- Have increased activity levels
- Feel “jumpy” or “wired”
- Have trouble sleeping
- Become more active than usual
- Talk really fast about a lot of different things
- Be agitated, irritable, or “touchy”
- Feel like their thoughts are going very fast
- Think they can do a lot of things at once
- Do risky things
- Signs and symptoms of a depressive bipolar disorder episode include:
- Feel very sad, down, empty, or hopeless
- Have very little energy
- Have decreased activity levels
- Have trouble sleeping (sleeping too little or too much)
- Feel like they can’t enjoy anything
- Feel worried and empty
- Have trouble concentrating
- Forget things a lot
- Eat too much or too little
- Feel tired or “slowed down”
- Think about death or suicide
Bipolar disorder affects people in different ways. While medication and psychotherapy can help to control the symptoms of bipolar disorder, it may not completely eliminate them.
Qualifying for Benefits with Bipolar Disorder
The Social Security Administration maintains a listing of impairments. This list describes medical and mental health conditions that are considered severe enough to prevent an individual from participating in “substantial gainful activity” (working). There is a list for both adults and for children.
Bipolar disorder is listed in the SSA’s listing of impairments. To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits as an individual with bipolar disorder, you must submit evidence of the following:
1. Medical documentation of a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, characterized by at least three of the following symptoms:
- Pressured speech;
- Flight of ideas;
- Inflated self-esteem;
- Decreased need for sleep;
- Involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences that are not recognized; or
- Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation;
2. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning:
- Understanding, remembering or applying information;
- Interacting with others;
- Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace;
- Adapting or managing oneself.
3. The mental disorder is “serious and persistent,” with a documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least two (2) years, with documentation of both:
- Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of the mental disorder; AND
- Marginal adjustment, which means minimal capacity to adapt to changes in the environment or to demands that are not already part of daily life.
Because bipolar disorder is a qualifying disorder, a person with this mental illness can qualify for SSDI benefits. However, doing so requires a significant amount of documentation. A person seeking SSDI benefits for bipolar disorder should be prepared to submit evidence of their diagnosis, treatment history, and how their bipolar disorder impacts their ability to function in daily life.
Even if your condition doesn’t explicitly meet the requirements above, you can still qualify if you are unable to perform any of your past work and are unable to adapt to other competitive work in the national economy. When dealing with bipolar disorder, one of the challenges is the often-cyclical nature of the illness.
Even if your impairment is generally well-managed, you may suffer from several days every month where your symptoms overcome your medication and treatment regimen, and you are simply unable to function. If you would (or do) frequently miss work, or your productivity suffers during these periods, Social Security may find you to be unable to work. However, because this can be so hard to document as these symptom-flares are based on your internal experience, the help of a skilled advocate can make all the difference in the world.
Work with a Disability Benefits Attorney
Like depression, a heart condition, or any type of physical disability, bipolar disorder is an impairment that may prevent a person from engaging in work. If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you may qualify for SSDI benefits. A New Jersey SSD attorney can help you gather evidence and file an application, increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Based in Philadelphia, Bross & Frankel has offices in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey to best serve our clients. Since 1995, we have represented individuals with disabilities in their quest to obtain benefits. To learn more or to schedule a free claim review, contact our office today at (856) 795-8880, or reach out online.