The Social Security Administration's (SSA) disability insurance program includes benefits for many kinds of disabilities, including those caused by mental illness. In this post, we will review the federal regulations that govern Social Security disability benefits for bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is one of several mental illnesses defined by SSA regulations as an affective disorder. The general definition of an affective disorder is "a disturbance of mood accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome." A person seeking disability benefits for bipolar disorder must demonstrate that the illness meets a specified level of severity as described in the regulations.
The analysis begins with medically documented persistence of (a) a depressive syndrome accompanied by symptoms such as loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, psychomotor agitation, decreased energy or feelings of guilt or worthlessness and (b) a manic syndrome as evidenced by hyperactivity, inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep or easy distractibility. An applicant for benefits can also demonstrate the existence of bipolar syndrome by showing a medically documented history of a chronic affective disorder of at least two years' duration that has caused more than a minor disruption of the ability to work, together with showing repeated episodes of decompensation, a marked residual disease process that would be expected to cause decompensation if the individual were asked to make even minor changes in his or her environment or a history of one or more years' inability to function outside of a supportive living environment.
Proving any form of mental illness can be very difficult because these diseases are rarely susceptible to objective diagnosis using a test or scan or other similar procedure. Anyone who is contemplating an application for SSD benefits for bipolar disorder, or who has a loved one contemplating such an application, may benefit from consulting a lawyer who has experience in SSD benefit claims. Such a consultation can provide a helpful explanation of the claims process and an estimate of the likelihood of obtaining an award of benefits.
Source: Social Security Administration, "Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, 12.04 - Affective Disorders," accessed on Nov. 7, 2016