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By Diana Wade
Disability Advocate 

Bipolar Disorder, condition and symptoms; can I qualify for benefits?

Ask the Advocate


September 12, 2020

Diana Wade

Historically known as Manic Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness characterized by cyclic mania, or periods of extreme euphoria followed by bouts of severe depression. This mental disorder is not a mood disorder alone but a category of several mood disorders. It is a condition that is prevalent in both men and women.

Signs of the depressive phase of this mental illness include persistent feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness, isolation, fatigue, irritability, lack of motivation, chronic pain, morbid suicidal ideation, self-loathing and depersonalization. In severe cases, individuals suffering from this disorder can even become psychotic. Bipolar Disorder symptoms typically manifest sometime between childhood and late adolescence.

Assessment of Bipolar Disorder is usually performed on an outpatient basis. An inpatient facility admission is usually only considered necessary if an individual poses a serious risk to his/herself or others. A preliminary assessment may consist of a physical examination by a doctor. Generally, examinations are not repeated for relapse cases unless there is indication of a specific medical need.

Bipolar Disorder is a depressive disorder with medical documentation, characterized by five or more of the following:

A. Depressed mood;

B. Diminished interest in almost all activities;

C. Appetite disturbance with change in weight;

D. Sleep disturbance;

E .Observable psychomotor agitation or retardation;

F. Decreased energy;

G. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;

H. Difficulty concentrating or thinking;


I. Thoughts of death or suicide.

OR Bipolar disorder, characterized by three or more of the following:

J. Pressured speech;

K. Flight of ideas;

L. Inflated self-esteem;

M. Decreased need for sleep;

N. Distractibility;

O. Involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences that are not recognized; or

P. Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation.


B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning:

1. Understand, remember, or apply information.

2. Interact with others.

3. Concentrate, persist or maintain pace.

4. Adapt or manage oneself.


C. Your mental disorder in this listing category is "serious and persistent;" that is, you have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both:

1. Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder; and

2. Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life.

Bipolar disorder can be granted disability benefits if the impairment or ailment has resulted in limitations of the capacity to perform basic work action even when symptoms are controlled with psychosocial support and medication. If a claimant still does not meet the above criteria, he may still apply for disability based on his remaining functional capacity, education and age. If mental residual functioning is very limited and one is not capable of meeting the demands of basic routine repetitive activities, it is still possible to qualify for a medical vocational disability allowance.

Because Bipolar Disorder is listed in the impairment listing manual of the Social Security Administration, a person with Bipolar Disorder who wishes to file for disability benefits can win by satisfying specific criteria. If you are planning to apply for SSDI/SSI disability benefits, you should bear in mind that all Social Disability claims will be granted or denied based on medical records. You should strive to keep a consistent treatment regimen before and during the Social Security Disability application process, and if your SSDI/SSI application is denied, you should be prepared to file a disability appeal. In many cases, a Social Security Disability advocate can provide invaluable help by guiding you through the application and appeals processes.

An Accredited Disability Representative with more than 20 years experience, Diana Wade believes her clientele can be comfortable knowing that she is recognized by SSA and is a charter member of NADR. To contact Wade call (661) 821-0494, email or visit


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