According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 4.4 percent of adults experience bipolar disorder during their lives.
Individuals with certain disabilities may be able to secure disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). If you or a loved one have bipolar disorder, you may wonder whether the SSA considers bipolar disorder a disability.
Depending on the severity of the illness, the SSA may consider mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder a qualifying disability. The law firm Atticus reports that , in 2020,13 percent of people receiving disability benefits qualified based on mental health issues. Five percent of these individuals had bipolar disorder or a similar condition.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Formerly known as manic depressive disorder, bipolar disorder involves extreme mood swings. Highs can entail various levels of mania, and lows can bring depressive episodes.
When someone experiences mania, they may feel euphoric, creative, and talkative. Highly energetic, they may have trouble sleeping and may also show poor decision-making ability.
During the lows of the disorder, individuals may feel sad or hopeless, lose interest in things they typically enjoy, and have trouble concentrating and completing tasks.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are four different types of bipolar, Healthline reports:
- Bipolar 1 – Mania is more intense with Bipolar 1, while depression is less severe. Some patients may not experience depression.
- Bipolar 2 – Individuals with Bipolar 2 experience a less severe form of mania and episodes of depression.
- Cyclothymic disorder – The ups and downs of this form of bipolar disorder are less intense than in Bipolar 1 or 2.
- Other specified and unspecified bipolar disorders – Individuals with these disorders may still experience highs and lows in mood.
Popular culture often depicts those with bipolar disorder as highly creative artists. Yet this type of mental illness can nonetheless be devastating.
According to the NIMH, those with bipolar disorder experience the highest levels of severe impairment among people with mood disorders. Having bipolar disorder can make it difficult for someone to regulate their mood. Fluctuating moods can complicate relationships, making keeping long-term relationships difficult. Changes in productivity and interest in working can also make maintaining employment challenging.
The National Alliance on Mental Health states that the average age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25. This illness can also occur in adolescents and even children as well.
Treatment of Bipolar Disorder
Treatment options may consist of a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Health care providers often also recommend learning strategies for self-managing bipolar disorder. These could include keeping to a stable routine and learning how to recognize one’s triggers. Maintaining a strong network of loved ones for support and living healthfully can also prove helpful.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a free hotline available 24-7 for those coping with mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder. Call 1-800-662-HELP to obtain referrals to treatment centers and support groups near you. This national service is confidential and available as in English as well as Spanish.
Is Bipolar a Disability Under the SSA’s Definition?
As having bipolar disorder can cause day-to-day challenges, individuals with this illness may qualify for disability benefits.
Eligible individuals who meet the SSA’s definition of disability may receive one, or both, of the following types of public benefits:
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI provides monetary assistance to workers who can no longer participate in the workforce because of a disability. They must have a work history and had to have paid into Social Security to qualify for these benefits. (Individuals who became disabled before age 22 may be able to qualify for SSDI based on a parent’s work record.)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI gives financial support to those with very limited income and resources, including children and adults with disabilities.
The SSA administers both programs, and the medical requirements are the same. However, these programs do differ in three important ways. They do not have the same financial requirements, offer access to the same health benefits, or provide the same monthly payments.
To receive SSI or SSDI for a disability, you first have to meet the SSA’s definition of disability. You must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that prevents you from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. (The SSA considers “substantial” activity any type of work that requires significant physical or mental activity, or both. “Gainful” activity is work generally performed for pay.)
Your disability must also:
- be terminal,
- have lasted for at least a year, or
- be likely to last at least a year.
Since the illness must be severe enough to prevent you from working, not all with bipolar disorder can obtain benefits.
Applying for Disability Benefits
To receive benefits, you must prove that your bipolar disorder qualifies as a disability. This entails the following:
- Submitting information about health care providers, doctors, hospitals, and clinics
- Providing your job history
For your application to succeed, it should establish that your bipolar disorder severely limits your mental functioning and ability to work. It must also show that your illness is long-term. Even though the Americans With Disabilities Act recognizes bipolar disorder as a disability, the SSA may not.
Consult With a Special Needs Planner
For assistance with your disability benefits application, consider working with a qualified special needs planner. An attorney in this field can help you create a strong application that demonstrates how your disability qualifies you for benefits.