October 1, 2012

Social Security Disability Benefits For Bipolar Disorder

I receive numerous calls every week from Indiana residents telling me they have been denied disability benefits.  People suffering from bipolar disorder or other mental impairments make up a portion of those phone calls.  I cannot represent every potential disability client who calls my office, and there are several factors I have to consider before deciding to represent someone.  Some callers tell me they are bipolar, but they have never been diagnosed by a doctor and are not receiving any treatment.  Unfortunately, your belief that you have bipolar disorder is probably not going to be enough for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to find you disabled. Even if you experience the symptoms of  bipolar disorder,  the SSA is going to want documentation from treating sources to help prove your disability claim is valid.

I do understand the difficulty in finding appropriate treatment for mental illness.  If you do not have health care coverage, the cost to visit a therapist, see a psychiatrist, or pay for medication is unaffordable, even for people who are employed.    Fortunately, some hospitals and nonprofit organizations have programs to help people without funds obtain treatment for mental disorders.  I strongly encourage my clients to seek these programs out and do the best they can to get the care they need.

Most of my clients receiving care for a mental disability see two different kinds of mental health professionals.  Usually the person who prescribes mental health medications is a psychiatrist.  The patient has periodic appointments with the psychiatrist, who assesses the patient’s need for medications, prescribes the appropriate drugs, and monitors the patient’s progress.  Another individual commonly seen by my clients is a therapist.  The patient often spends more time with a therapist than with a psychiatrist, usually in the form of group or individual counseling.  Most therapists document the individual’s progress in treatment records that can be used to show the Social Security Administration how the claimant’s mental impairments keep her from being able to live a normal life.

So what should you do if you have bipolar disorder and you are unable to obtain mental health treatment?  If you believe your mental condition prevents you from working, you should apply for disability benefits. Most likely, the SSA will send you for a consultative mental health examination.  If your condition is severe enough, the results of the exam might provide enough evidence for the SSA to find you disabled.  However, it is important to remember that an opinion from a doctor who has only examined you once, and who has never treated you before, is not very strong evidence of a mental impairment, and winning your claim will be a long shot.

To summarize, I believe individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder and are unable to work can win their Social Security disability claims if they have good treatment records.  If you are denied after you apply for benefits, It is important not to give up, because many studies show that you are more likely to receive a favorable outcome on appeal than on your initial claim.  Many factors affect the probability of a favorable decision – I have found it can depend on which Administrative Law Judge hears your case.  Some judges are sympathetic to people with mental disorders, while other judges look upon them with a very skeptical eye.  Finally, it is important to keep track of the paperwork Social Security sends you, to keep all of your appointments, and to remember your deadlines for returning your paperwork.  Be persistent in appealing your claim so you will not be delayed in receiving the benefits you deserve.

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