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Bipolar Disorder: How to Win SSDI Claim with a Hard to Explain Disease

Bipolar Disorder is a frustrating and debilitating mental disorder. The inability for a sufferer to explain exactly what they are feeling, combined with the numerous different forms the disease can take, makes treating bipolar disorder incredibly complex for both patient and doctor. For some of these same reasons, it is also presents unique challenges when trying to win a claim for Social Security Disability benefits under the Bipolar Disorder guidelines. Let’s take a look at what bipolar disorder is, how its commonly treated, and the unique challenges the disease presents in the context of an SSDI claim. And don’t worry, we’ll also discuss how to overcome those legal challenges.


The National Institutes of Health defines bipolar disorder as a brain disorder that causes an unusual shift in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day activities. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, and energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes. Bipolar disorder can also be called manic depressive illness and these two terms are listed together for purposes of listings by the Social Security Administration. Bipolar disorder can be broken down into four distinct categories but, for our purposes, we’ll stick to the two most common types, Bipolar I Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder.
Bipolar I Disorder is classified by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depression and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible. Bipolar II Disorder is characterized by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes described above.


Treatment for Bipolar Disorder varies depending on symptoms. Mental health professionals focus on managing the disorder, not curing it. This is true of most psychiatric illnesses. Treatment of Bipolar Disorder in any form often combines a course of medications and therapy. The medications also run the gamut from antidepressants to antipsychotics and must be carefully monitored by the Claimant’s mental health professional.

The Social Security Administration listing looks for certain characteristics in mood when assessing whether a particular Claimant’s Bipolar Disorder is disabling. Specifically, Listing 12.04 looks for a combination of four of the following depressive characteristics: pervasive loss of interest, appetite disturbance, sleep disturbance, agitation of motor skills, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or thinking, suicidal thoughts and hallucinations. Even when four of these are established, a successful SSDI claim requires that three of the following manic characteristics be established: hyperactivity, increased rate of speech, inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, easy distractibility, hallucinations and involvement of obviously dangerous activities. Finally, the medical records and testimony of the Claimant must show a “Marked”, or obvious and consistent, restriction in activities of daily living and social functioning, difficulty in maintaining concentration, persistence and pace and repeated episodes of decompensation, which deals with the inability to cope with the psychological stressors the Claimant is facing.

How do we best prove an SSDI claim dealing with Bipolar Disorder? The most important factor in the successful SSDI claim for Bipolar Disorder is the maintaining of consistent and comprehensive medical treatment by the Claimant. At American Disability Alliance, we make an effort from the beginning of your claim to assess and refocus the Claimant’s medical treatment so that they are exploring every option that might get them well. When we can, ADA will aid the Claimant in finding that help in their community. This help can range from psychologists and psychiatrists to other, less conventional methods of treatment.

A Note from American Disability Alliance

American Disability Alliance is dedicated to helping you through this difficult time. No one expects to have to apply for Social Security Disability benefits. But now that you are, we will guide you through the process knowing how difficult your circumstances have become. ADA gives you access to a dedicated team of disability lawyers, advocates and other professionals that know the Social Security Disability process and are on the cutting edge of new ideas and SSDI information.

You deserve access to your disability attorney and regular updates on your claim. We at ADA hope to start a partnership with all of our clients with you. We’ve found this to be the way to achieve the best results for our clients. We will share information, strategy and goals in order to make the SSDI process efficient, reassuring and, of course, successful. ADA will never forget that it is a privilege to do the work that gets honest, working people back on their feet with disability benefits. This is our mission and guides every decision we make, from how we assist our clients to who we hire, please see our outstanding reviews.


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