SSDI Assessment

Bipolar Disorder and Social Security Disability Insurance

Here is an explanation of Social Security's five-step process to determine if a bipolar disorder patient qualifies for SSDI:

1.    Determine if an individual is "working (engaging in substantial gainful activity)" according to the SSA definition. Earning more than $1,040 a month as an employee is enough to be disqualified from receiving Social Security disability benefits.

2.    Conclude the bipolar disorder disability must be severe enough to significantly limit one's ability to perform basic work activities needed to do most jobs. For example:
  • Walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying or handling
  • Seeing, hearing and speaking
  • Understanding/carrying out and remembering simple instructions
  • Responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations
  • Dealing with changes in a routine work setting
3.    Ask if the bipolar disability meets or equals a medical listing. Bipolar is listed under mental disorders. To satisfy the listing criteria for bipolar disorder, a number of variables are considered:
  • Anhedonia
  • Appetite disturbance
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Thoughts of suicide and hallucinations
  • Delusions or paranoid thinking
  • In assessing bipolar disability relative to a listing level impairment, the following areas of functioning are evaluated:
  • Restrictions of activities of daily living
  • Maintaining social functioning
  • Deficiencies of concentration
  • Persistence or pace
  • Repeated episodes of decompensation--each of extended duration
An individual who has four symptoms present from the depressive syndrome list, as well as extreme limitation in two of the four functional areas, would probably be eligible for benefits.

4.    Explore the ability of an individual to perform work they have done in the past despite their bipolar disorder. If the SSA finds that a person can do his past work, benefits are denied. If the person cannot, then the process proceeds to the fifth and final step.

5.    Review age, education, work experience and physical/mental condition to determine what other work, if any, the person can perform. To determine bipolar disorder disability, the SSA enlists medical-vocational rules, which vary according to age.

For example, if a person is:

Under age 50 and, as a result of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, unable to perform what the SSA calls sedentary work, then the SSA will reach a determination of disabled. Sedentary work requires the ability to lift a maximum of 10 pounds at a time, sit six hours and occasionally walk and stand two hours per eight-hour day.

Age 50 or older and, due to the bipolar disorder disability, limited to performing sedentary work, but has no work-related skills that allow him to do so, the SSA will reach a determination of disabled.

Age 55 or older and, due to the disability, limited to performing light work, but has no work-related skills that allow him to do so, the SSA will reach a determination of disabled.

Over age 60 and, due to the bipolar disorder disability, unable to perform any of the jobs he performed in the last 15 years, the SSA will likely reach a determination of disabled.

Any age and, because of bipolar disorder, has a psychological impairment that prevents even simple, unskilled work, the SSA will reach a determination of disabled.

Check out information regarding the  prescription drugs used to treat bipolar disorder.

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