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Does a bipolar diagnosis qualify me for disability benefits?

Roughly 6 million American adults live with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. That breaks down to about 2.5% of the adult population in the United States. For some, their condition can be managed by medication and behavior modification.

Those are the lucky ones. Bipolar disorder can be quite severe in some individuals. The symptoms may prove to be so disabling that they are not able to work doing any substantial gainful activity (SGA) at a level that would support themselves.

Severe cases may qualify

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines “disability” as “any medically determinable mental or physical condition that has prevented an individual from working and receiving earnings equal to the SGA limit.” The condition either must be terminal or expected to last for at least a year and prevent the patient from working at the SGA level.

Furthermore, the sufferer must also have at least one of the following:

  • Past medical history of episodic periods with both depressive and manic symptoms
  • Their daily activities significantly restricted
  • Severe problems with maintaining social functioning
  • Multiple instances of decompensation for extended periods
  • Significant difficulties with pace, persistence or concentration

Comorbidities common with bipolar disorder

Another problem is that bipolar disorder is frequently accompanied by other comorbidities in its sufferers, making them even more unlikely to be able to work at a SGA level consistently.

Many with bipolar disorder struggle with drug and alcohol problems and self-medicate in an attempt to feel better. Another 35% are clinically obese and have three times the risk of diabetes. The risk of cardiovascular disease and/or strokes is twice that in bipolar patients than it is with the general population.

While these conditions alone might be manageable and allow the patients to lead normal, productive lives, taken in conjunction with other conditions as well as the underlying bipolar diagnosis, they can overwhelm individuals and leave them unable to cope with the rigors of life.

What you can do

Simply gathering the medical records to present your case to the SSA can be beyond the abilities of someone in the throes of a manic or depressive episode of their bipolar disorder. Your Social Security Disability benefits attorney can offer invaluable help with presenting your case to the administrative law judge.

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