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Bipolar and SSDI Benefits

The Social Security Disability Insurance program or SSDI is a disability program which provides disability payments to workers who have a severe mental or physical health condition which is expected to last for at least 12 continuous months and who are no longer able to work or to perform work at a “substantial level”.

In addition to the medical criteria established by the Social Security Administration (SSA), workers must also have worked long enough and paid enough in payroll taxes to be considered “insured” by the SSA. The Social Security Administration determines the number of work credits which must be accumulated by disabled workers to qualify for SSDI, and the number of credits needed to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance can vary if you become disabled at a young age. Generally, most workers will need approximately 20-40 work credits to qualify for SSDI.

Winning Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for Bipolar

Affective disorders or “mood disorders” affect a claimant’s emotions and ultimately how the claimant acts and thinks. Mood disorders include bipolar disorder, depression and mania.

This article is going to focus primarily on bipolar disorder which causes the claimant’s mood to vary or fluctuate between mania (grossly exaggerated bouts of enthusiasm which lead to incomplete and disorganized behaviors) and depression (hopelessness, feeling of despair, low energy, and lack of interest in normal daily activities).

Behaviors which are common for a person who has been diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder include clinical depression and mania which could cause anger, belligerence, and delusional behavior. Claimants may also suffer from fatigue, insomnia and suicidal thoughts. In fact, bipolar individuals are 10-20 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Divorce statistics also show an astounding number of marriages end in divorce if one person has been diagnosed with this condition.

Proving Disability for Bipolar Disorder

The SSA will make a disability determination in one of two ways: 1) The claimant’s condition either meets or exceeds a listing on the SSA Listing of Impairments (more informally known as the Blue Book), 2) The claimant’s condition does not meet a listing and they are determined disabled through a medical vocational allowance.

Meeting a SSA Listing for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a listed impairment in the Social Security Administration's impairment listing manual. Bipolar disorder is evaluated under Listing 12.04.

Section A.

First a claimant must have a history of periods mania (hyperactivity, decreased need for sleep, flight of ideas, easily distracted and paranoid thinking) and depression (decreased energy, feelings of guilt, suicidal thoughts, paranoid thinking, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, weight loss or gain and agitation). The claimant must also currently be manifesting one or both syndromes.

Section B.

Additionally, claimants must limitations in one of the following areas:

1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or
2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or
3. Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or
4. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

If claimants do not meet the criteria established under Sections A and Sections B, they may qualify if they meet criteria established under Section C of the same listing.

Section C.

Medically documented history of a chronic affective disorder of at least 2 years' duration that has caused more than a minimal limitation of ability to do basic work activities, with symptoms or signs currently attenuated by medication or psychosocial support, and one of the following:

1. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration; or
2. A residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause the individual to decompensate; or
3. Current history of 1 or more years’ inability to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement, with an indication of continued need for such an arrangement.

Winning SSDI for Bipolar through a Medical Vocational Allowance

Winning SSDI for Bipolar through a Medical Vocational Allowance requires the SSA to evaluate the claimant’s remaining capacity to work as well as their educational level, their age and their work experience. If the SSA determines the claimant could work any job available in the national economy that they are qualified to work based on their residual work capacity and factors listed above, the claimant will be denied benefits.

The disability determination process is not simple. The Social Security Administration has created rules, regulations and processes to simplify the process and create continuity between each disability determination office. Talk to the Social Security Administration or a Social Security Disability lawyer if you have questions about your disability status.