Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) affects an estimated 2 million people over the age of 18. Unfortunately, severe symptoms associated with either manic episodes, depression (or both) can cause difficulties in holding down a regular job. In fact, working may become impossible for some bipolars.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has disability benefit programs in place for those with severe bipolar who are unable to work due to the disorder. These are five commonly-asked questions about disability benefits:
#1: How can I prove I'm disabled by my bipolar disorder?
SSA has certain criteria they use to establish any kind of disability, whether related to physical or mental disorders. First, your disorder must be severe enough to keep you from working more than just a minimal amount. Second, it must be diagnosed by a medical professional, typically a physician or psychologist. (A psychiatrist is a type of physician.) Third, it must be expected to last at least 12 months.
Additionally, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder commonly involves a number of signs and symptoms that SSA looks at when determining whether someone qualifies for disability benefits. These symptoms could be present in either depressive or manic syndromes, and include things such as:
* Appetite and/or sleep disturbance
* Hyperactivity or a lack of energy
* Difficulty concentrating
* Involvement in high-risk activities
* Loss of interest in activities
* Feelings of guilt or worthlessness or inflated self-esteem
* Hallucinations, delusions or paranoid thinking
* Thoughts of suicide
* Repeated episodes that affect your ability to function normally
Of course, there are many factors that SSA will look at. They will want documentation from your health providers and possibly your family, friends or others who know you.
#2: What are my chances of winning?
Unfortunately, the average approval rating for disability claims at the initial level is only about 25-30%. Why? Most claims lack significant pieces of information. For this reason, most successful disability applicants seek some kind of help, either from a professional advocate or specialized information and help source.
#3: How long will it take?
Most initial claims are decided in 3-4 months. Some take more, some less. If your claim has to go through the appeals process, it can take another 6-12 months -- occasionally, even longer. This is why it is important to present a strong case from the very beginning, to expedite the success of your claim.
#4: What if my claim is denied?
Don't give up! If your initial claim is denied, you have the opportunity to appeal and request a hearing. (Some states have two lower levels prior to the hearing level.) The hearing before a judge is really your best chance to win. However, it is not smart to go in unprepared. You need to present a strong and convincing case to sway the judge enough to award you benefits. Preparation, including good documentation of your bipolar condition and its effect on your ability to work, is essential to your claim's success.
#5: What kind of benefits will I receive?
Disability benefits include monthly checks which vary, depending upon the program you fall under. There are two main disability programs under Social Security. The SSDI program is based primarily on your work history; monthly checks average around $900. The SSI program is based on financial need and resources; it helps those without a steady work history. Everyone gets the same amount under SSI - around $600/month maximum.
Of course, many benefit winners receive a back benefit check which can be many thousands of dollars; this is one reason why it is important to apply as soon as you become eligible.
Other benefits include health and medical benefits (Medicare and/or Medicaid), newly-established prescription drug benefits, and even continued benefits while trying to go back to work, if your situation improves.