- Bipolar Disorder and Social Security Disability
- Bipolar Disorder – Condition
- Filing for Social Security Disability with a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis
- Impairments that Qualify for Bipolar Disorder Disability Benefits
- Your Bipolar Disorder Disability Case
- Getting Financial Aid for Bipolar Support and Services
- It’s discouraging when you’re turned down for bipolar support services. However, think of it this way: the more ‘No’s’ you get, the closer you are to getting a ‘Yes.’
- Social Security Disability Claims for Bipolar Disorder
- SAA Requirements for Bipolar Disorder
- If Bipolar Disorder Prevents You from Working
- Help with Your Bipolar Disorder Disability Claim
- Financial Advice for Mental Diseases & Disorders
- Free & Affordable Treatment Options
- Assistance for Working Individuals
- Difficulty Maintaining Consistent Employment
- Mental Illness Housing Options
- How to Apply for Social Security Disability with Bipolar Disorder
- Getting Social Security Disability Benefits for Depression or Bipolar Disorder
- Length and Levels of Depression
- Meeting a Disability Listing for Depression or Bipolar Disorder
- Consideration of Your Residual Functional Capacity
- Tips on Getting Disability for Depression or Bipolar Disorder
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
- Bipolar Caregivers
- Child Network
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
- DBSA’s Facing Us Clubhouse
- DBSA Online Support Groups
- Disability Care Center
- International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF)
- Man Therapy
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Now Matters Now
- Project Implicit
- Screening for Mental Health
- This Is My Brave
- Print and online resources
- Patient Resources
Bipolar Disorder and Social Security Disability
Bipolar Disorder – Condition
Historically known as Manic Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness characterized by cyclic mania, or periods of extreme euphoria followed by bouts of severe depression. This mental disorder is not a mood disorder alone, but a category of several mood disorders. It is a condition that is prevalent in both men and women.
Signs of the depressive phase of this mental illness include:
- persistent feelings of hopelessness
- lack of motivation
- chronic pain
- morbid suicidal ideation
In severe cases, individuals suffering from this disorder can even become psychotic. Bipolar Disorder symptoms typically manifest sometime between childhood and late adolescence.
Ordinarily, a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis is based on an individual’s self-reported experiences, along with behavioral abnormalities reported by friends, family members and colleagues. These indications are often corroborated by secondary symptoms observed by a social worker, psychiatrist, nurse or other clinicians involved in a clinical assessment.
Assessment of Bipolar Disorder is usually performed on an outpatient basis. An inpatient facility admission is usually only considered necessary if an individual poses a serious risk to his/herself or others. A preliminary assessment may consist of a physical examination by a doctor. Generally, examinations are not repeated for relapse cases unless there is indication of a specific medical need.
Filing for Social Security Disability with a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis
If an individual’s Bipolar Disorder is constant and impairs all ability to function in a work environment, that person may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. Any individual with Bipolar Disorder can be eligible for disability benefits if he/she meets the evaluation criteria listed in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book, and if he/she has received a medical vocational disability endorsement based on the person’s residual functional ability, education and age.
Impairments that Qualify for Bipolar Disorder Disability Benefits
The Social Security Administration has established that a claimant with Bipolar Disorder must have a history of consistent symptomatic manic episodes, depressive syndromes, or a combination of both. Additionally, the claimant’s bipolar disorder should result in two (2) of the following restrictions:
- severe limitation of daily activity,
- inability to interact with others in a normal way, or
- recurring episodes of decompensation, which last for an extended period of time.
If a claimant does not meet the aforementioned criteria, he/she may still qualify under a section in the Blue Book, which states that any individual with a medical history documenting at least two years of any chronic affective disorder, including Bipolar Disorder, can be granted disability benefits, despite the support of medication, if the impairment or ailment has resulted in:
- limitations of the capacity to perform basic work action, even when symptoms are controlled with psychosocial support and medication.
- the claimant’s condition must lead to persistent decompensation periods, or
- the residual illness process has caused a subsidiary adjustment that even a nominal boost in mental demands would cause the claimant to decompensate.
Furthermore, a claimant must have been incapable of functioning outside a supportive livelihood for any foreseeable time period. If an individual meets or exceeds these qualifications, there is a good chance of eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
If a claimant still does not meet the aforementioned criteria, he may still apply for disability based on his remaining functional capacity, education and age. If mental residual functioning is very limited and one is not capable of meeting the demands of basic routine repetitive activities, it is still possible to qualify for a medical vocational disability allowance.
Because applying for disability benefits with a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis can be a complex and intimidating process, hiring a qualified Social Security Disability lawyer or disability advocate may be in a potential claimant’s best interest.
Your Bipolar Disorder Disability Case
Because Bipolar Disorder is listed in the impairment listing manual of the Social Security Administration, a person with Bipolar Disorder who wishes to file for disability benefits can win by satisfying specific criteria. If you are planning to apply for SSDI/SSI disability benefits, you should bear in mind that all Social Disability claims will be granted or denied based on medical records.
You should strive to keep a consistent treatment regimen before and during the Social Security Disability application process, and if your SSDI/SSI application is denied, you should be prepared to file a disability appeal. In many cases, a Social Security Disability lawyer or advocate can provide invaluable help by guiding you through the application and appeals processes.
Getting Financial Aid for Bipolar Support and Services
By Allison Strong
- Post Views: 13,001 Views
It’s discouraging when you’re turned down for bipolar support services. However, think of it this way: the more ‘No’s’ you get, the closer you are to getting a ‘Yes.’
When it comes to getting assistance for bipolar and other health support and services, most organizations turned me away.
On paper, I wasn’t appearing ‘needy’ enough, or needy in the right way. All I heard was “No, No and No.”
For a while I was discouraged, but then, fifteen years after my bipolar diagnosis, I hit the wall with a Depression relapse so deep I resigned from an exciting, high paying job and had to apply for Disability Insurance.
I found out the government takes bipolar disorder quite seriously.
Emboldened by that dubious, bittersweet success. I started asking for help again.
I pushed on the basis of clinical and financial need. Because I’ve had bipolar disorder for 27 years, my medical expenses, due to high ‘cost sharing,’ deductibles, co-payments and an ‘all cash’ psychiatrist, are already high.
I’m finding getting help is a numbers game. Some Organizations are flexible with exclusion criteria, especially if I’m persistent.
Last year I applied for financial assistance seven times and got free or low cost meds and services three times.
I’m finding getting help is a numbers game.
Sure, I have to pester people, push the paperwork, make my case, followup and deal with rejection when I run up against rigid rules.
I do it because those ‘Yeses’ represent huge savings and higher quality treatment for me and my bipolar disorder.
Life is so much better with a little help now and then. It reinforces my belief in the goodness of the world.
One of my ‘Yeses’ is for a free medication. The copayment is 200.00 a month.
I should have asked years ago.
Then, another situation…..I’m on a specialty medication for a neurological condition, and receive a copayment assistance grant through a charity. I save 9k a year on that one. The charity is funded by the drug company. I’m grateful to them for their generosity and remember that when tempted to growl about high prescription prices.
The third ‘Yes,’ is from a local psychology university for my Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, (DBT), class.
I called around and found were two local providers. The first place said my weekly copayment would be 100.00 a week. They are part of the 5th largest hospital chain in the country. Because of the nature of corporations, which can sometimes be inflexible, there was no flexibility or wiggle room.
The answer was a resounding ‘No.’
I investigated the other program and made my case. They were willing to look at my annual medical expenses…and deduct those from my income. I waited two months for an answer. Eventually, they offered me a 50% sliding scale.
Perhaps because they’re an institution of higher education, a University, they’re aware how helpful DBT can be for a person with bipolar disorder.
The minimum time commitment, BTW for DBT is a year. Great!
I’m ‘All In.’
The worst that can happen is they say ‘No.’ But the more No’s you get, the closer you are to getting a ‘Yes.‘
I didn’t count on being so busy for so long…but at least I’ll be doing healthy, constructive things with my time.
When it comes to goods and services, It NEVER hurts to ask.
The worst that can happen is they say ‘No.’ But the more No’s you get, the closer you are to getting a ‘Yes.’ What you do is can ask the ‘no’ person if they know of another provider or organization.
Motivated by a desire to be helpful, most people will try to help you.
Recommendation in hand, you make that next phone call.
And so on.
Bipolar Disorder is full of ups and downs. Every case is individual, personal.
Numbers? Not so much. Getting help with goods and services that seem out of reach is a respectable pursuit, in my book.
And it is a numbers game.
It takes work, but we’re all worth it.
Social Security Disability Claims for Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder’s cycles of depression and mania, with possible hyperactivity, rapid speech and thinking, euphoria, and poor judgement can make holding a job impossible for some.
Fortunately, if you meet certain requirements or are unable to function at a level that allows you to hold a basic job, you may be eligible for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Our Social Security Disability attorneys can help you through the process.
SAA Requirements for Bipolar Disorder
The first step in qualifying for disability benefits for bipolar disorder is to meet the SSA’s Blue Book listing (12.04).
To qualify for benefits under this listing, an individual must have medical documentation of at least three of the following:
- Accelerated, rapid or frantic speech
- Fleeting ideas or racing thoughts
- Inflated self-esteem
- Reduced need for sleep
- Easily distracted
- Increased reward- or pleasure-seeking activity or purposeless physical activity like pacing or tapping fingers
- Involvement in activities with a high probability of unrecognized painful consequences
The individual must also suffer from extreme limitation of one or marked limitation in two areas of mental functioning:
- Applying, remembering or comprehending information
- Interacting with other people
- Concentrating, persisting or maintaining pace
- Adapting or managing oneself
If the individual does not meet the criteria outlined above, he or she may be able to qualify for benefits if his or her mental disorder is considered “serious and persistent,” with a documented history at least two years of evidence of medical treatment, therapy for mental health, or involvement in a highly structured, ongoing setting that diminishes signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder.
There must also be evidence of marginal adjustment, showing they have minimal capacity to adapt to environmental changes or demands outside of normal daily life.
If Bipolar Disorder Prevents You from Working
If you do not meet the strict requirements of the Blue Book listing, the SSA will also evaluate to what extent your disorder impacts your ability to work.
The SSA will conduct a mental residual functional capacity (RFC) test, which will evaluate your ability to concentrate, remember details, follow directions, socialize and engage in other skills that are required in most jobs.
This evaluation will show the type of work the SSA believes you could do based on your condition. This may be skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled.
If you are found to be unable to perform even unskilled work, benefits may be offered through a medical-vocational allowance.
Help with Your Bipolar Disorder Disability Claim
To support your bipolar disorder’s impact on your ability to work, you will need to provide the SSA with detailed medical documentation.
Your physician should submit your psychiatric medical records, which state your history, severe and/or violent episodes of mania, and all treatments undergone, including medication.
Your symptoms and their effects on daily life should be documented, as well as how effective medication is/was and side effects experienced.
If you are having trouble filing your SSD claim for bipolar disorder or have been denied and wish to file an appeal, the Phoenix social security disability attorneys at Dayes Law Firm PC can guide you through the process, working to help you get the benefits you need.
Call 1-800-503-2000 or complete our Free Case Evaluation form today.
Financial Advice for Mental Diseases & Disorders
*If you’re currently experiencing a mental health crisis or if you’re considering harming yourself or others, please get help immediately. You can call the free and confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or visit your closest emergency room for immediate intervention
Free & Affordable Treatment Options
It’s a stunning statistic: 56% of American adults with mental illness don’t get the help they need. Often, this is because of the cost of mental health care, the employment struggles many with mental health issues face, or both.
The good news is that there are programs and options for both getting affordable care and offsetting other financial hardships that may accompany mental health issues.
When it comes to the cost of help, the healthcare system in the U.S. is built on the assumption that the person needing a service will be covered by insurance. Getting insurance coverage if you don’t already have it will increase your treatment options.
Health insurance plans are offered from several sources and are generally required to provide mental health coverage. If you’re employed, your employer may offer insurance, and some employers also pay toward the monthly premium as part of the benefits package to make it more affordable. Many of these plans do not exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions, but it’s important to check your employer-offered plan to be sure. Young people who need coverage can be included in a parent’s employer-provided insurance plan (until age 26), and college students may be able to get low-cost insurance through the state their school is located in.
If insurance coverage through family, work, or school isn’t available, government insurance through Medicare or Medicaid or an insurance plan offered through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace (also known as “ObamaCare”) are other options. Government insurance and ACA healthcare plans are expressly prohibited from denying coverage or charging more to cover a pre-existing condition, including mental health issues or substance abuse, which means getting coverage is possible regardless of your medical history.
Medicare and Medicaid for Mental Health
Medicaid and Medicare are federally funded insurance programs and qualifying is based on income, age, and disability status. To apply for either of these programs or for help starting the Social Security Disability application, contact your local Social Services agency.
Free Clinics and Health Services
While it’s imperative that you work toward getting health insurance coverage for ongoing treatment and to protect your health and financial well-being, there are some free and low-cost options you can explore.
Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) offer services through local Community Health Centers, and they must meet strict requirements to be eligible for government funding. Many of these centers provide mental health services on a sliding-fee scale based on ability to pay.
Sometimes private therapists will also make income-based arrangements with patients. Call therapists in your area to ask if they provide this option. Reaching out to local nonprofits can be helpful as well. Not only can they provide information about local resources that might be open to you, some have even recruited groups of professionals like therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists who donate time to see patients as a pro-bono service.
Other options include VA Medical Centers if you’re active or former military. Campus Student Health or Student Counseling Centers can provide support if you’re a college student. Even if you aren’t a student, a nearby university or a training hospital may provide help at a low cost. Psychology (Ph.D.) and Psychiatry (M.D.) candidates are required to perform a certain number of direct patient service hours during their final internships and residencies. These near-professionals are supervised by a clinically licensed teaching professional, and you can expect a high quality of care.
Assistance for Working Individuals
Aside from finding adequate and affordable care, many people with a mental illness also struggle with employment.
If you’re currently looking for work, some employers offer guaranteed interviews for people with a disability who meet the minimum role requirements.
Your state may also provide ways to help people with disabilities find employment through vocational rehabilitation services or supported employment. The supported employment program partners with employers to help people with serious mental illness get jobs and be successful in them. Check with the mental health agency where you receive support services and/or your local employment office for information and support for seeking employment with a disability.
Whether you’re interviewing or already employed there are systems in place to ensure that you’re not subjected to unfair treatment once you tell your employer about your disability. The Equality Act is legislation that governs what employers or potential employers can and can’t do for people with disabilities including mental illnesses. It’s aimed at both preventing discrimination in the hiring process and ensuring that reasonable accommodations are made for applicants and employees with a disability.
Except in very rare cases (like applying for a teaching position), potential employers are not allowed to ask whether you have a medical or mental health issue. Once you’ve been hired, employers are responsible for removing any barriers that prevent you from being able to perform your work successfully because of your disability. Being familiar with what the law requires from employers will help protect you in the workplace.
Something else to keep in mind is that having a job doesn’t necessarily impact your benefit amounts or eligibility. You can receive federal support like SNAP, Medicaid, or Disability benefits as a supplement to other income as long as you’re not earning above the income limit. Your local Social Services office can provide eligibility information, income limits, and instructions for reporting income changes as they occur for each kind of assistance you receive.
Difficulty Maintaining Consistent Employment
Sometimes finding and keeping a job with a mental illness can be a challenge. Almost 60% of people receiving mental health services in the U.S. say they want to work, but the national unemployment rate for the same group is 80%.
Applying for disability benefits can be a good option even if you’re able to work, but it’s probably a necessity if mental illness is preventing or severely limiting you from finding or keeping a job.
Applying for Disability
Mental illness is the third most common Social Security Disability category. Mental health issues can also exist along with other primary disabilities, and 58.8% of adults receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and 34.7% of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in 2016 had a psychiatric condition either as a primary disability or along with one.
The most common mental illnesses that qualify as disabilities are grouped into categories like anxiety disorders, affective disorders (like chronic depression), autism, personality disorders, psychotic disorders (like paranoia and schizophrenia), mood disorders, bipolar disorder, and more. If you have questions about whether your illness is covered and whether you could be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits, you can visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) website or contact your local Social Services agency for more information and to begin the application process.
The SSA has its own definition of what a disability is and diagnostic criteria to determine whether an individual qualifies. You’ll need to provide medical records and documentation from your doctors, and you’ll interview with a caseworker to answer questions about how your disability affects your day-to-day life. You’ll also be required to provide information about your income and assets. It’s possible that requests for documentation and interviews with caseworkers could be repeated through several stages of the SSA review.
Qualifying for disability benefits can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. For people with mental illnesses with symptoms that make it hard to follow up and stay on top of the complicated process, having a support system is crucial to success. Enlist family and friends to help you stay on top of where you are in the process and to help you gather documentation you’ll need to submit. Also, make your local Social Services agency aware that the disability you’re applying for makes the application process difficult for you. They can provide additional support through the process.
Social Security and Social Security Disability for Mental Health
The outcome of the application process isn’t just to determine whether you qualify for disability benefits, but also to determine what type of disability benefits you qualify for.
SSDI is paid when a contribution threshold through past work is met. It’s the Social Security withholding you may have seen on your paychecks. The SSDI benefits are paid from the Social Security Trust Fund on a monthly basis, and the amount you receive is determined by your total previous contributions.
SSI, however, is strictly need-based, and eligibility is determined by proof of financial hardship. SSI is for individuals who have never worked or who do not meet the minimum work contributions. This benefit, also paid monthly, is a flat rate and amount.
SSDI and SSI are both disability benefits paid directly to the person with a disability to help cover living costs. Qualifying for disability benefits also qualifies you for government health insurance. Those who qualify for SSDI qualify for Medicare, and those who qualify for SSI qualify for Medicaid.
It is possible that you could qualify for both SSDI and SSI and to receive benefits from both. If that applies to you, a case manager will explain what exactly that will entail based on your specific situation.
If you’ve recently lost your job or changed employment, COBRA allows you to keep your former employer’s health insurance for up to 18 months as long as the premium continues to be paid. If you or a dependent have a disability, COBRA coverage can be extended for 36 total months of coverage. Because employer group policies are often more expansive that private policies the cost maintaining coverage through COBRA can be prohibitive. Still, it provides a way to prevent coverage lapses if/when your employment situation changes.
Mental Illness Housing Options
If you’re experiencing financial hardship because of (or along with) your mental illness, it’s possible that finding affordable housing or paying for the housing you have is difficult. Certain types of mental illness can also make living alone difficult, which means a different kind of housing could be necessary.
If you’re experiencing a housing emergency, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website has resources and information about homelessness prevention, temporary housing, and where you can get help in your state. Your local United Way and other similar charity organizations may also be able to help. You can look online or call 211 anywhere in the U.S. to get a list of resources near you.
If your mental illness prevents you from being able to live independently, there are several options that may be covered or partially covered by health insurance. Supervised group housing is an option that is best for people whose illness significantly impacts their ability to perform day-to-day living tasks. This kind of housing is similar to assisted living facilities. Residents have their own rooms, but common spaces are shared and support staff provides 24-hour assistance with things like medication, transportation, and treatment management.
Partially supervised group housing is for residents who can live semi-independently and be left alone for several hours at a time. Residents in partially supervised housing still getting help with cooking, cleaning, medication, and other needs. Staff members are always available on-call, but they are present 24 hours a day. Supportive housing provides limited assistance akin to in-home nursing for medical issues. Staff only visit occasionally, unless called for, and residents are mostly independent. Consult your policy or contact your policyholder to learn more about your managed care coverage including possible residential support.
For those who can remain independent, renting a home and working with a caseworker to ensure that your ongoing care is maintained can be a good solution, if it’s affordable to do so. If it’s not affordable because of financial hardship, you may qualify for federal programs like Section 8, which helps pay a portion of rent in any place that meets the federal requirements, or Section 811, which does the same but is specifically for people with disabilities. Public housing is another federal program offering government-owned accommodations to very low-income households and to people with disabilities. These programs have income limits, disability status requirements, or both. More information, including how to apply, can be found at the U.S. Housing and Urban Development website.
Regardless of which housing path you need to take, it’s important for you to be aware of your budget. If you don’t already have a monthly budget, now is the time to make one, especially if you’re also navigating the disability benefits application or if maintaining employment is (or may become) difficult.
When considering your budget, housing should be a maximum of 35% of your income. If you’re paying more than that, you may need to consider other options. Your budget should also include insurance coverage if you’re not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.
It’s understandable if living with mental illness, managing costs of living and care, navigating employment, and going through the process of applying for Social Security Disability feels overwhelming. Gather a support system to help as you go through the steps to secure ongoing treatment with the coverage and financial assistance you need, and remember to take immediate steps if you find yourself in crisis.
Max Fay is an entrepreneurial Millennial whose thoughtful writing shows he has a keen eye on both. Max has a genetic predisposition to being tight with his money and free with financial advice. At 25, he not only knows what an “emergency fund” is, he already has one. He wrote high school and college sports for every major newspaper in Florida while working his way through Florida State University. That experience was motivation to find another way to succeed financially and he has at Debt.org. Max can be reached at [email protected]
More From This Author
How to Apply for Social Security Disability with Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder causes severe mood swings that can make learning, working, or other aspects of daily life difficult to perform. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration offers financial benefits to help alleviate these struggles.
These benefits, called Social Security Disability benefits, are available to those who meet certain requirements and successfully complete the application. An adult or child living with Bipolar disorder can benefit from understanding the entire disability process in order to gain the financial support deserved.
Disability Benefits Program Options
You will most likely be applying for one of two main disability programs offered by the Social Security Administration: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
SSDI is for disabled workers and who have paid Social Security taxes from their paychecks. You will asked for a job history when you apply, which will show that you have worked for long enough to qualify for SSDI. This makes SSDI more suited for working adults. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssdi/qualify-for-ssdi
SSI is another benefit program similar to SSDI, but is intended specifically for elderly and disabled individuals. Instead of a job history, you will be asked to demonstrate that you meet the SSA’s strict financial limits. This makes children good candidates for SSI, since they will not have had much experience working. In the case of applications for children, the Social Security Administration will ask a parent to submit part of their finances for evaluation as well.
In addition to the financial or work requirements listed above, you will also have to qualify medically if you wish to receive benefits.
The Social Security Administration determines medical eligibility according to a guidebook of all disabling conditions, which is called the ‘Blue Book.’ Anyone seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration must be able to match their case with the set of requirements listed under their condition.
In the Blue Book, there are separate listing sections for adults and children.
For adults, Bipolar disorder is found in Section 12.04, Mental Disorders – Affective Disorders. For children, the condition is listed in Section 112.04, Mental Disorders – Mood disorders. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/disabling-conditions/bipolar-disorder-and-social-security-disability
The adult listing asks that you have a two-year history of bipolar disorder and you receive treatment for the condition. You will also need to show certain symptoms specific to the condition. For children, the listing requires observation of a number of symptoms fitting Major depressive syndrome and Manic syndrome.
- The application itself requires plenty of organization and attention to detail. Here is a quick overview of the process and how to begin:
- Make sure to have medical records and any helpful information about your case before you apply. This could mean hospitalizations, therapy records, your diagnosis, and any statements from professionals.
- There are two ways to initiate the application: in person during a meeting with someone from the Social Security Administration or by filling out the forms online. Applications for children, however, MUST be done in person.
- The Social Security Administration will then conduct its evaluation using your information and its own professionals before making a decision.
What to Expect
You will likely need to wait at least a month—often longer—before you receive a decision from the Social Security Administration. Many initial applications are rejected for being incomplete or not clearly meeting the eligibility requirements. If this happens to you, do not panic. You have 60 days to submit an appeal of the decision. While this may seem time-consuming, this is often how many people end up receiving benefits.
If you think you might struggle with any part of the application, you may want to hire a disability advocate to help you. They will guide you as you prepare the application and will present it before the Social Security Administration on your behalf. These advocates are experts in the process and only take payment if you are approved.
Although the disability benefit application can be confusing and difficult, the benefits themselves can be well worth it. They can be used to pay for appropriate treatments and medical bills, but they can also be used for daily expenses like food and utilities.
By following the steps, including choosing the right benefit program and having the information needed to meet the medical eligibility requirements, you can put yourself in a good position to be approved for Social Security Disability benefits.
Social Security Disability Help (Author of Article)
- Twitter: @DisabilityGuide
- [email protected]
Disability Help Center (based in San Diego but offers assistance Nationwide)
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Getting Social Security Disability Benefits for Depression or Bipolar Disorder
Depression is a common complaint made by individuals trying to obtain Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. Depression can cause symptoms of poor concentration, low energy, problems sleeping, and suicidal thoughts. If you have bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression), you may have depression mixed with periods of manic behavior with rapid speech.
To receive disability benefits, you will need to show proof of more than just a diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder. You will need to present evidence that your depression or bipolar disorder is so severe that you are unable to work or function well. According to Social Security statistics, about two-thirds of applicants who apply for disability on the basis of major clinical depression or bipolar disorder end up getting approved (many only after having to request an appeal hearing).
Following is a list of important issues the Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider when evaluating your claim, and tips for how you can increase your chances of obtaining benefits.
Length and Levels of Depression
Your depression or bipolar disorder must have lasted or be expected to last for at least a year, and must be at a level at which you would be unable to perform a job on a consistent and regular basis. The SSA does not require that you be depressed every day of the month, but you must show your depressive symptoms occur frequently enough to prevent you from working.
Quite often, your medical treatment records for a particular visit will say that you are “feeling better” or that your depression has “improved.” The SSA might use these records as a reason to deny you disability benefits. If your medical records include such notes, you can explain at a hearing before an administrative law judge whether you have good days and bad days with your disorder, and how often each occurs.
Meeting a Disability Listing for Depression or Bipolar Disorder
The Social Security Administration will automatically grant disability benefits for depression or bipolar disorder if you can show you have the symptoms and limitations listed in its official disability listing for depression or bipolar disorder. The SSA will consider treatment notes from your doctor or psychologist, mental status evaluations, psychological testing, and any reports of hospitalizations.
Symptoms. To qualify for either disability benefits on the basis of depression, you must show you have at least five of the following symptoms:
- depressed mood
- decreased interest in almost all activities
- poor appetite or overeating resulting in a change in weight
- insomnia or oversleeping
- difficulty concentrating or thinking
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- thoughts of death or suicide, and/or
- a slowing of physical movement and reactions.
To qualify on the basis of bipolar disorder, you must have at least three of the following symptoms:
- unnaturally fast, frenzied speech
- quickly changing ideas and thought patterns
- inflated self-esteem (usually with false beliefs)
- decreased need for sleep
- involvement in risky activities with painful consequences that are not recognized, and/or
- increase in physical agitation (such as pacing or restless busyness) or in in goal-directed activity (such as taking on new projects).
Limitations. For either disorder, you must show that you also have a loss of abilities, either an extreme limitation in one of the following areas or a “marked” (severe) limitation in two or more of the following areas:
- adapting to change or managing oneself (controlling behavior, having practical personal skills like paying bills, shopping, and practicing good hygiene)
- concentrating on and finishing tasks
- interacting with others using use socially appropriate behaviors, and/or
- understanding, remembering, or using information (the ability to understand instructions and learn and remember new things).
Alternately, if you can’t show that you currently have this loss of abilities because you have been living in a highly structured or protected situation or undergoing intense therapy, you may be able to qualify for benefits if you can show that you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or demands that are not already part of your daily life.
Consideration of Your Residual Functional Capacity
If the SSA says you don’t meet the disability listing, the SSA will consider what you can do. It does this by writing up your mental residual functional capacity (MRFC). An MRFC is a description of what tasks you can do in a work setting; it explains your communication skills, your ability to relate to others, your ability to speak to the public, and whether you can be reliable in showing up to work.
For instance, say you have bipolar disorder and there is evidence in your medical records that you have moderate impairment in your social functioning caused by mood swings and you have a moderate level of difficulty with concentration. Your RFC might look like the following: you have no limitations in walking/standing/sitting, you are unable to work with the public, and you are limited to simple 1-2 step instructions. This RFC would prevent you from working in many occupations, but you still would not be found disabled since there are simple unskilled jobs that do not require working with the public. Read more about how the SSA makes this decision in our article on how the SSA evaluates an RFC for disability.
Tips on Getting Disability for Depression or Bipolar Disorder
Here are some things to keep in mind before you apply and while you are waiting for a decision.
Medical Opinions About Your Depression or Bipolar Disorder
You will need a statement from your treating doctor or a psychologist regarding the severity of your depression. For example, your doctor might give an opinion that you would miss several days of work each month due to your depression. Make sure the doctor provides an explanation for this opinion.
Continue to see your doctor or therapist during the waiting process for benefits so that you can amass a long treatment history in your medical records. The SSA cannot easily deny the opinion of a therapist who has consistently found you to have a severe mental disorder and who has clinical signs supporting this opinion. If you cannot afford to see a doctor or therapist on a regular basis, the SSA may send you to a consultative examination with a psychologist. For more information, see Nolo’s article on getting a doctor’s report for disability.
The Importance of Getting Treatment for Depression
The SSA will review your medical records to determine if you have been prescribed any medication for your depression or bipolar disorder and whether this medication effectively controls your symptoms. If you have never been given medication, the SSA might consider your condition to be mild and not disabling.
In addition, if your doctor has recommended therapy or medication for your condition and you chose not to follow the doctor’s advice, the SSA might find you in “noncompliance.” You can be denied disability benefits for not complying with your doctor’s treatment recommendations. However, a good reason for not following a doctor’s recommendation is if you are financially unable to pay for therapy sessions. For more information, see Nolo’s article on being denied benefits for failing to follow treatment.
Drugs and Alcohol and Depression
If you have been diagnosed with drug or alcohol dependency, then you have a major roadblock to obtaining disability benefits for depression or bipolar disorder. An examining psychologist might assume that your symptoms result from drug usage and not from your underlying condition. It is your burden to show the SSA that you would be disabled by your depression bipolar disorder regardless of your use of drugs or alcohol. In these situations, it is helpful to have a period of sobriety in your medical records during which you still have been diagnosed with severe depression or bipolar disorder. Also, you can try to request a statement from your doctor stating that drugs or alcohol are not the cause of your mental condition and that stopping use would not make your condition improve. For more information, read Nolo’s article on how drugs and alcohol can keep you from getting disability.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance web site provides timely information on depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, and explains how doctors screen for these conditions. This web site provides information for the newly diagnosed, as well as recovery steps, and ways to help a loved one with depression and bipolar disorder.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is a national organization that focuses on supporting individuals who have depression and bipolar mood disorders. The organization also offers a support network for parents of children with pediatric mood disorders. Support is offered through local chapter meetings and online resources, such as videos, educational materials, and online support groups.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
The National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI works to support and educate the public about various mental disorders, with the goal of improving the quality of life for all people diagnosed with mental illness. NAMI’s web site provides the latest facts, statistics, and research advances on different types of mental health conditions.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is a leading nonprofit organization of physicians and other mental health professionals dedicated to helping children, teens, and families affected by mental, behavioral, or developmental problems. On the web site, the AACAP provides resources for parents, including a link to find a nearby psychiatrist for children and adolescents.
American Psychiatric Association
The American Psychiatric Association is an organization of psychiatrists who unite to guarantee compassionate care and effective treatment for all people with behavioral and mental disorders, substance abuse problems, and intellectual disability. Links from this web site will provide you more information about common mental health problems, medication options, and prevention steps.
American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest association of psychologists in the world. The APA’s site is filled with the latest information on topics ranging from addiction, ADHD, aging, and Alzheimer’s to bullying, eating disorders, sexual abuse, and suicide.
The American Society for Clinical Psychopharmacology (ASCP)
ASCP is an organization of psychiatrists and other physicians as well as doctoral-level mental health researchers who study psychopharmacology across the country. Their web site maintains a link for finding a psychopharmacologist as well as other helpful patient information about psychopharmacology.
Please note: The resources listed below are for informational purposes, and their inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by MoodNetwork. MoodNetwork does not recommend using these resources as a substitute for proper diagnosis and treatment. Please contact a qualified health care provider if you have any questions about your diagnosis and/or treatment.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
Main: (240) 485-1001 | Information: (240) 485-1030 | [email protected]
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of those who suffer from anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and related disorders.
bipolarcaregivers.org is a useful, easily accessible information website for caregivers of people with bipolar disorder. The information on bipolarcaregivers.org is based on guidelines for adult caregivers (18 years or over) developed by combining the latest bipolar research with the opinions and consensus of 143 expert caregivers, people with bipolar disorder and clinicians from different countries around the world.
The Child Network is an online tool and research study that allows parents to track their child’s mood and behavior through weekly assessments on a secure web site under a protocol approved by the John’s Hopkins IRB. The tool is specifically intended for parents of children who have mood or behavioral problems (or who are at-risk for problems because the parent has depression or bipolar disorder). The weekly assessment of symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, oppositionality, and mania takes only a few minutes and the results can be printed out to visualize symptom trajectory and response to treatment. This may be very helpful to parents and clinicians in following symptom evolution and improvement, and will provide much needed information on childhood mood disorders.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
Main: (312) 642–0049 | Toll-free: (800) 826-3632 | [email protected]
This is the national website of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), an organization that strives to help its members live healthy, dignified lives. The alliance serves a community of people with medically diagnosed bipolar or depressive illness, their families, and friends.
DBSA’s Facing Us Clubhouse
Main: (312) 642–0049 | Toll-free: (800) 826-3632 | [email protected]
Sponsored by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), this online program includes several useful tools, including a Wellness Tracker that lets you chart key mental and physical health trends related to your overall mood, mood disorder symptoms, lifestyle choices, and physical health. The website also lets you create a journal, write lists of tips for yourself, and read tips that others have posted.
DBSA Online Support Groups
Main: (312) 642–0049 | Toll-free: (800) 826-3632 | [email protected]
This section of the DBSA website lets you search for local and online support groups. It also includes a “Peer Inspiration” page that features stories, videos, and other creative expression by people with mood disorders.
Disability Care Center
Toll-free: (888) 504-0035 | [email protected]
The Disability Care Center is a national advocacy organization helping Americans who are suffering from disabling conditions become approved for Social Security Disability benefits. They offer information and resources on disability benefits such as how to apply for disability, how to qualify with bipolar disorder, and local Massachusetts Social Security resources.
International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF)
Main: (858) 764-2496
International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF; formerly California Bipolar Foundation) was founded in 2007 in San Diego, California, by four parents with children affected by bipolar disorder. IBPF’s mission is to improve the understanding and treatment of bipolar disorder through research, to promote care and support resources for individuals and caregivers, and to erase stigma through education.
Man Therapy™ uses a humorous approach designed to show working age men that talking about their problems and getting help is not a sign of weakness. Man Therapy provides men, and the people who care about them, information and resources. Visitors to mantherapy.org will learn more about men’s mental health, how to recognize signs and physical manifestations of stress, examine their own wellness, and connect with resources.
MoodSwings is an online self-help tool for people with bipolar disorder. Material used in this website is based on an effective face-to-face group program. This website is a collaborative project between the University of Melbourne and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, with support from the National Institutes of Health.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Main: (703) 524-7600
Toll-free information helpline: (800) 950-NAMI (6264)
Toll-free member services: (888) 999-NAMI (6264)
Helpline manager: [email protected]
The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) is the largest grassroots mental health organization in the country. Their website provides information about mental illnesses, treatment options, support groups and programs, and the alliance’s advocacy efforts. You can also link to your local NAMI chapter.
Now Matters Now
Using direct, easy-to-follow videos, Now Matters Now offers tools for coping with suicidal thoughts as well as strategies to help people build more manageable and meaningful lives. Developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), the website focuses on DBT techniques like mindfulness and paced breathing.
A non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition, or thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control.
Screening for Mental Health
Main: (781) 239-0071 | [email protected]
A non-profit organization dedicated to improving people’s mental health, Screening for Mental Health screens people for mental illness and suicidality, and works to educate and raise awareness about mental illness. Screening for Mental Health provides online screening tools and helps people find confidential screening locations in their area.
This Is My Brave
Email: [email protected]
This Is My Brave’s mission is to end the stigma surrounding mental illness by sharing personal stories of individuals overcoming mental illness through poetry, essay and original music, live on stage, through stories submitted and published to their blog, and via their YouTube channel.
Toll-free: (866) 487-0510 | [email protected]
This clearinghouse for depression and bipolar research is a partnership between the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and the University of Michigan Depression Center.
Print and online resources
This mindfulness resource page was created on behalf of the Healthy Mind, Healthy You study team. This document includes recommendations for mindfulness apps, online therapies, and books. Please, however, keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list of mindfulness resources. Therefore, we encourage those interested to explore additional resources on their own, as well.
David D. Burns, M.D., The Feeling Good Handbook, revised ed. (New York: Plume, 1999).
S. Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., Mood Disorders: A Practical Guide, 2nd edition (Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2008).
Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (New York: Vintage, 1997).
Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, (New York: Scribners, 2001).
William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (New York: Random House, 1990).
Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness (New York: Guilford Press, 2007).
Affordable Colleges Online – Mental Health Support
Email: [email protected]line.org
Affordable Colleges Online has many detailed guides that can help college students learn more about common mental illnesses, support systems, and how to request accommodations at school.
Suicide Prevention in College
This guide provides expert advice and resources for students experiencing suicidal thoughts, as well as for their friends and family.
Support for College Students with Bipolar Disorder
This guide focuses on how students with bipolar disorder can find help on campus. It also covers common treatment plans and offers advice for managing bipolar disorder in college.
McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web
This is a great website on depression and bipolar disorder run by John McManamy, a writer with bipolar illness who is the author of Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell You . . . That You Need to Know.
This educational website is run by Jim Phelps, M.D., an active clinician with expertise in bipolar disorder and the author of Why Am I Still Depressed? Recognizing and Managing the Ups and Downs of Bipolar II and Soft Bipolar Disorder.
Associacao de Apoio aos Doentes Depressivos e Bipolares (ADEB) – Association of Support to Patients with Depression and Bipolar Disorder in Portugal
Associació de Bipolars de Catalunya (Spain) – Bipolar Association of Catalonia
Asociación Bipolar de Madrid (Spain) – Bipolar Association of Madrid
Asociación Valenciana de Trastorno Bipolar (Spain) – Valencian Association of Bipolar Disorder
Austrian Association of Bipolar Disorders
Bipolar Yasam Demegi – Society for Bipolar Life
Confederación SALUD MENTAL ESPAÑA – Mental Health Confederation in Spain
Depression Alliance (UK )
DGBS – Deutsche Gesellschaft für Bipolare Störungen – German Society for Bipolar Disorder
Foundation FondaMental (France)
GAMIAN-Europe – Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks
Lityum Demegi – Lithium Association in Turkey
Mental Health Ireland (MHI)
Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK
Servizio per la Prevenzione del Suicidio
Swiss Society for Bipolar Disorders
The Society for Bipolar Disorders (Turkey)
Vereniging voor Manisch Depressieven en Betrokkenen (VMDB) – Association for Manic Depression in the Netherlands
ABRATA – The Brazilian Association of Families, Friends, and Sufferers from Affective Disorders
Fundación Bipolares de Argentina (FUBIPA) – Bipolar Foundation of Argentina