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Bipolar Disorder

Does Bipolar Disorder Qualify Me For Social Security Benefits?

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be extreme enough to prevent an individual from working. If this is the case for you, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.


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Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by alternating periods of mania and depression. There are two main types of bipolar disorder, Bipolar I and Bipolar II, and each may have slightly different criteria for diagnosis.

Bipolar I is characterized by distinct periods of mania and depression, though some individuals will also experience symptoms of hypomania, a state of mania where symptoms are milder. In order to be diagnosed with Bipolar I, manic symptoms must last at least one week and occur for most of the day every day or result in hospitalization. Approximately 30% of individuals diagnosed with Bipolar I experience severe symptoms.

Bipolar I is most commonly diagnosed around age 18. Individuals with Bipolar I are often diagnosed with additional mental health conditions, such as anxiety. In order to be diagnosed with Bipolar I, individuals must also experience a period of significant depression.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Constant depressed mood
  • Decreased pleasure or interest in almost all activities
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Insomnia or hyposomnia
  • Restlessness or slowed activity, as observed by others
  • Fatigue
  • Worthlessness or feelings of guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or suicide attempts

Symptoms of mania include:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Highly talkative state
  • Racing thoughts
  • Easily distracted
  • Increased activity generally, especially goal-directed activity
  • Increased reckless behavior such as gambling, spending sprees, social behaviors

Bipolar II is more common than Bipolar I. Like Bipolar I, it is often first diagnosed in young people.  However, unlike Bipolar I, individuals with Bipolar II never experience manic episodes. Instead, they experience periods of major depression along with periods of hypomania. Unlike mania, the symptoms of hypomania are not severe enough to cause severe impairments in social and occupational functioning. However, this does not mean that individuals with Bipolar II cannot qualify for disability benefits.

Bipolar disorder is included in the Social Security Listings of Impairments, which means that if your illness has been diagnosed by a qualified medical practitioner and is severe enough to keep you from working, you are eligible to receive disability benefits. However, because there are no medical tests for these mental illnesses, it is vital that you see a psychologist or psychiatrist who can support your application.

(Source: DSM-V by the American Psychiatric Association)

Improving Your Chances For Obtaining Benefits

It’s particularly important to see a psychologist or psychiatrist who can document the progression of your illness because this can sometimes be the only official record of your depression, mania or bipolar disorder. If you live with or frequently see family members or friends, ask them to document how your behavior has changed over time as well. While manic periods can occasionally be pleasant, it’s very important that you follow any course of treatment that you’re given; noncompliance can lead to a denial of benefits.

  1. Keep a detailed journal, including a calendar of notes about how you feel each day.
  2. Record any usual activities you could not do on any given day.
  3. Keep a detailed history of your current and past medications.
  4. See a health care professional regularly and take the medication that he/she gives you so that he/she can support your application for benefits.
  5. Ask your doctor or other health care professional to track the course of your symptoms and to keep a record of any evidence of fatigue, irritability, forgetfulness, unusual behavior, or other hard-to-document symptoms.
  6. Keep records of how your illness affected you on the job.
  7. Regular use of marijuana, alcohol or other substances can hurt your chances of having your disability claim approved.

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