is bipolar disorder a disability

Bipolar disorder, also referred to as manic-depression, is one of the more severe mental health disorders experienced, impacting over 6 million adult Americans, or 2.8% of the U.S. population.  Although the disorder is expressed in various degrees and with differing features, bipolar disorder generally involves extreme mood swings that can keep the individual completely off-balance.  The disorder can become so disruptive to daily function that it begs the question: Is bipolar disorder a disability?

As a matter of fact, in severe cases of bipolar disorder, where the individual is so impaired by the disorder that they are unable to function effectively on the job, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) may be available.  There are several issues the Social Security Administration will review and consider before approving benefits, but knowing that is bipolar disorder a disability is encouraging news for those seeking SSDI benefits.

About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder features extreme shifts in mood and energy that are unpredictable and often disruptive to daily functioning.  Changes in sleep patterns, eating habits, emotions, and behaviors accompany the mood swings.  Generally individuals with bipolar disorder shift from manic to depressive episodes periodically.  The signs of the episodes may include:

Manic episode:

  • Elated, euphoric mood
  • Abundance of energy
  • Increased activity levels
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid speech
  • Irritability
  • Feeling jumpy
  • Racing thoughts
  • Engage in high-risk behaviors
  • Take on multiple tasks at once

Depressive episode:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, empty
  • Very low energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Decreased activity level
  • Forgetful
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Excessive worry
  • Lack of joy or pleasure
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Thoughts of suicide

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health disorder with no identifiable single cause.  Symptoms usually manifest at some point in childhood into late teen years.  Some of the risk factors include genetics, brain structure and functioning differences, and family history of bipolar disorder.

Different Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are four different types of bipolar disorder that share the basic feature of unusual mood swings.  These types include:

Bipolar I Disorder.  Bipolar I is the most severe form of the disorder, defined by manic episodes that last for at least seven days or with manic symptoms so severe immediate hospital care is necessary.  The depressive episodes can last two weeks or more.

Bipolar II Disorder.  Bipolar II is defined by a pattern of manic and depressive episodes, but not to the degree or severity of Bipolar I.

Cyclothymic Disorder.  Cyclothymic Disorder, or cyclothymia, is defined by repeated periods of manic symptoms and depressive symptoms lasting at least two years.  However, the symptoms do not reach the diagnostic criteria for manic or depressive episodes.

Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar Disorders.  This category includes bipolar disorder symptoms that do not fit into the above categories.

What it Feels Like to Have Bipolar Disorder

Living with bipolar disorder can be extremely challenging.  The mood changes can be swift, or can linger for several days.  While in a manic phase the individual may experience supercharged energy, sharp concentration, and feel inspired to conquer the world.  But, sadly, the depressive episode will swoop in an dash those dreams leaving the individual feeling ultra fatigued, defeated, and sad.

It is also difficult for family members or friends to be exposed to someone with bipolar disorder that isn’t being treated, as the erratic mood swings keep people off balance, unsure of which version of the friend they are getting each day.  Bipolar support groups can be very helpful to both the individual with the disorder and their loved ones, as these groups offer helpful tips and strategies for managing life alongside someone struggling with bipolar disorder.

Is Bipolar Disorder a Disability?

When someone with bipolar disorder finds that cannot function at a job then that individual may be eligible for SSDI benefits.  The SSA has detailed evaluation criteria available in the SSA Blue Book that will determine whether the person meets the eligibility threshold.  Impairment in the work environment that emerges after a history of consistent manic and/or depressive episodes, and results in two of the following three restrictions:

  • Severe limitation of daily activity
  • Inability to interact normally with coworker or management
  • Recurring episodes of decompensation, or a deterioration of the mental health despite treatment that once helped

Regardless of whether the applicant for SSDI meets the above criteria, they can still qualify if they have a medical history that documents a minimum of two years with a diagnosed affective (mood) disorder, including bipolar disorder.  If impairment has rendered the individual as limited in their ability to perform the job duties, the mental health disorder is deteriorating, and the applicant would further deteriorate with an increase in mental demands on the job.  You can begin researching your application here.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Although there is no known cure for bipolar disorder, there are effective methods available to help manage the condition and enjoy some quality of life.  A combination of therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and support from friends and family can help those who struggle with bipolar disorder live a fulfilling life.  There is residential mental health treatment and outpatient treatment available for bipolar disorder.  Treatments include:

  • Therapy sessions in both individual and group settings use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and family-focused therapies.
  • There are specific medications that can help treat bipolar disorder, such as lithium, anticonvulsants, and mood stabilizers.  Others include antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers.
  • Healthy Lifestyle. Establishing healthy habits, such as getting sufficient sleep, getting regular exercise, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and eating a nutritious diet can benefit the individual with bipolar disorder.

The Treatment Specialist Locates Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

The Treatment Specialist is a team of mental health experts who offer free treatment locator services for individuals struggling with bipolar disorder.  Our compassion specialists are professionals in the mental health field who can guide you or your loved one toward effective treatment programs that specialize in bipolar disorder.  If you are wondering is bipolar disorder a disability, our specialists can help you evaluate the criteria.  For more information please contact The Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.

About the Author

The Treatment Specialist

The Treatment Specialist offers mental health information and treatment resources for adults, teens, and families. If you or your loved one is suffering and is in need of help, you’re not alone, call to receive guidance and support at 866-644-7911.

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