Bipolar Disorder, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits
Social Security recognizes that bipolar disorder is a severe medical condition that could prevent an individual from performing work activity at the SGA (substantial gainful activity) level. The Social Security definition of disability maintains that a disability is any medically determinable mental or physical condition that has prevented an individual from working and receiving earnings equal to the SGA limit, or is expected to prevent the performance of SGA-level work activity for twelve continuous months, or is expected to result in their death.
The Social Security Disability guidebook evaluates the severity requirements needed to be approved for disability on the basis of bipolar disorder under mental impairment listing 12.04 Affective Disorders, section A 3. The listing requires that an individual have a history of episodic periods, documented by the full symptomatic range of both manic and depressive syndrome symptoms (the current episode may be characterized by either or both syndromes).
This section is found in full at Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI with Bipolar Disorder. For more information on just the condition itself, read below.
Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depressive disorder, is a mental illness categorized by cyclic periods of extreme euphoria or mania, most often followed by periods of extreme depression. Bipolar disorder itself is not a solitary mood disorder, but a category of many mood disorders. Since moods are oftentimes up and down for most people, to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder the patient must experience four or five symptoms of mania for at least a week.
There are currently four main classifications of bipolar disorder including Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Bipolar NOS and Cyclothymia. Bipolar I is diagnosed if the patient has one episode of extreme mania, with or without a depressive period. Bipolar II is diagnosed if the patient has a less extreme manic episode, called hypomania, followed by at least one major depressive episode. Cyclothmia is diagnosed when the patient has a history of hypomania along with periods of depressive episodes that are not categorized as majorly depressive. During Cyclothmia a person has less extreme cases of mania and depression, but they are both experienced in a cycling of moods, changing back and forth on a consistent basis. Bipolar Disorder (NOS), meaning Not Otherwise Specified, is the classification used when bipolar disorder is diagnosed, but does not fall into one of the three previous categories.
Bipolar disorder also falls into 'rapid cycling', which is when the moods of mania and depression cycle back and forth and 'mixed effective episodes', when symptoms of a manic state and depressive state are experienced at the same time.
Symptoms of mania can include rushed speech, short attention span, sleeplessness, racing thoughts, impaired judgment and unusual behavior. Oftentimes when people are experiencing mania they will engage in substance abuse, increased and unsafe sexual activity, aggressiveness and fall into grandiose, delusional ideas about themselves. In later stages of mania the patient may experience psychotic delusions, hallucinations and rage.
Symptoms of depression can include deep sadness, fatigue, isolation, guilt, hopelessness and anxiety. They may also lose sleep, sexual drive, interest in normal activities and appetite. Depressive states are also usually accompanied by social anxiety, chronic pain and lack of motivation. In later stages, those experiencing a depressive state may become suicidal and psychotic.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder usually occur in childhood or late adolescence. Studies suggest that there are many factors that contribute to the disease, from early childhood environment, neurobiology and genetics. The disease is diagnosed after other illnesses are ruled out. It is treated with counseling, therapy and medications such as antipsychotic medications or mood stabilizers. Lithium is the most common medication for bipolar disorder.
About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.
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