March 13, 2014

Bipolar Disorder and Social Security Disability Benefits

Bipolar disorder is a type of mental disorder.  It is usually distinguished by periods of depression that alternate with periods of “mania.”  Sometimes these episodes can be so severe that they impact a person’s ability to live a normal life.  There are five levels of moods associated with bipolar disorder:

Bipolar 3.12.14

  • Severe Mania
  • Hypomania
  • Normal Mood
  • Mild/Moderate Depression
  • Severe Depression

Some common signs that go along with these changing moods:

  • Feeling more “high” than normal or very irritable
  • Holding unreasonable beliefs about one’s own abilities
  • Not sleeping much, but having a large amount of energy
  • Talking so quickly that no one else can understand and experiencing racing thoughts
  • Being very distracted or not being able to concentrate
  • Acting very impulsively or recklessly
  • In severe cases, experiencing delusions or hallucinations

Bipolar disorder is not curable, but it can be manageable.  Management options may include psychotherapy or medication.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) classifies bipolar disorder as an “affective disorder.”  According to the SSA, an affective disorder is “characterized by a disturbance of mood, accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome. Mood refers to a prolonged emotion that colors the whole psychic life; it generally involves either depression or elation.”  Bipolar disorder is listed under Section 12.04 of the Listing of Impairments.

When evaluating your Social Security disability case, Social Security will try to determine your “residual functional capacity” (RFC).  Your RFC is defined as your ability to do work-like activities in a work-like setting on a “regular and continuing” basis.  In other words, the SSA is trying to determine your ability to work a normal eight hour a day job. Even though bipolar disorder may not affect your ability to accomplish physical activities, such as standing, carrying, or using your hands, it does affect your ability to work in other ways.  For example, Social Security will determine whether you are able to pay attention long enough to follow instructions, whether you can get along with other people in the workplace, and whether you will be able to get to work every day without a lot of absences due to your inability to cope with your mood swings.

It is  very important that you have thorough medical records showing that you are receiving consistent treatment, preferably from a mental health specialist, and that you are complying with your treatment.  Since there are no x-rays or objective tests that can prove you have a mental illness, it is important to provide Social Security with a well-documented history of treatment showing that mental health specialists have determined your symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from working.

Many people find it helpful to hire an attorney or claimant representative to help with their Social Security Disability claim.  The application and appeals process can be very confusing and somewhat challenging to someone who is not familiar with the Social Security Administration’s procedures.  If you have questions, most Social Security Disability attorneys and claimant representatives offer a free consultation to evaluate your case.

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