Can You Get Disability for Bipolar Disorder?

Here are some tips on how to get Social Security disability benefits for bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression) is a long-term psychiatric condition that causes an individual to have intense mood swings that are disruptive to daily life. A person with bipolar disorder can abruptly go from a state of depression to a state of euphoria or mania. Both manic and depressive episodes can last several days to several months.

Depressive episodes can be similar in symptoms and severity to clinical depression. Manic episodes can include behavioral changes like:

  • excessive talking or movement (pacing, fidgeting)
  • not sleeping or eating regularly
  • spree spending, or
  • becoming fixated on an activity.

These extreme mood swings and changes in behavior can make it difficult for a person with bipolar disorder to hold down a job, even with consistent medical treatment.

Fortunately, bipolar disorder is among the mental disorders listed in the Social Security Administration (SSA) Blue Book. Here's what you need to know to file a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim based on bipolar disorder, including what you need to prove, how to document your disability, and what to do if your claim is denied.

When Is Your Bipolar Disorder a Disability?

Generally, you'll qualify for benefits if you've received an air-tight diagnosis of bipolar disorder and have problems in at least two of the four main areas of functioning. Social Security's bipolar listing in the Blue Book requires that you have "marked" (very serious) limitations in at least two of the following areas:

  • understanding and remembering instructions and learning how to do new things
  • interacting with others using socially appropriate behaviors
  • concentrating and completing tasks in a reasonable amount of time, and/or
  • managing yourself by controlling your behavior, adapting to new situations, and maintaining personal hygiene.

If you only have a limitation in one area, it needs to be an extreme limitation (which is worse than a marked limitation).

What You Need to Prove You're Disabled

In order to prove that you have bipolar disorder, you should get a statement from your doctor or psychiatrist about your condition. Your doctor's report will be most influential if the doctor has been treating you for a while.

(If your doctor is less than helpful, you can still file for disability without your doctor's support.)

In addition to a doctor's report, it's helpful to provide some or all of the following documentation:

  • letters from employers and former employers explaining how your disorder affected your job performance
  • notes from friends and relatives explaining how your disorder affects your daily life, and
  • letters from a therapist explaining that the effects of bipolar continue despite treatment and your attempts to manage your disorder.

How to Apply for SSDI Benefits for Bipolar Disorder

The fastest way to file your application for SSDI benefits for bipolar disorder is on the SSA's website. You can fill out the online application from anywhere and at your own pace, stopping and restarting as often as necessary.

If you'd prefer, you can apply by phone at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (expect long wait times). Or use the SSA's office locator to apply at your local Social Security office.

Before you begin your application, gather as much of the following information as you can:

  • your birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • the name(s), Social Security number(s), and birth date(s) of your current and former spouse(s)
  • your marriage and divorce records (if any)
  • your work history for the past 15 years
  • income information for this year and last year (W-2 forms or self-employment tax return), and
  • any medical records you have including doctors' reports, inpatient and outpatient treatment records, and recent test results.

SSA representatives can help you gather any documents you don't have. So don't delay filing your application because of missing documents. (Learn more about the SSDI application and determination process.)

If you're feeling overwhelmed or having trouble getting started or completing your application, you might benefit from working with a disability advocate or lawyer. Having an expert in your corner can ensure your application is filed correctly and has the best chance of winning your claim.

SSDI Denials and Appeals

If your disability claim is denied, as many initially are, then you should file an appeal. Your appeal should clearly state why you want the claim reconsidered and why you should be considered disabled.

A disability lawyer can help you through the entire appeal process and represent you at the administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing if your first level of appeal (called a reconsideration) is denied. Before your hearing, the lawyer will develop the evidence to properly support your case. Your lawyer will know how to get the statements from your doctor and other evidence that will best show your limitations.

Updated June 9, 2022

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