Is Bipolar Disorder a Disability? Understanding Your Rights and Options

Is bipolar disorder a disability


​​Bipolar disorder can be a challenging condition to manage, causing significant swings in mood, energy, and behavior. If you’re wondering if these challenges qualify you for disability benefits, you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll explore whether bipolar disorder is considered a disability and what you need to know about navigating the path to potential benefits.

These topics will be discussed in this blog: 

Is Bipolar Disorder a Disability?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that helps make sure people with disabilities are treated fairly at work. Bipolar disorder is considered a disability under this law, just like being blind or having multiple sclerosis.

If you can’t work because of your disability, you might be eligible for Social Security benefits. There are two programs run by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that give monthly money and health insurance to people who can’t work:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) This is for people who have worked and paid Social Security taxes.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) This is for people with a low income.

Keep reading to find out how the ADA and Social Security could help you.

Can You Receive Disability Benefits for Bipolar Disorder?

It’s possible to receive disability benefits for bipolar disorder if your condition makes it impossible for you to work. 

Another indication that you might qualify for disability is if you struggle to take care of yourself day-to-day.

However, the SSA has specific rules for people with bipolar disorder. It might be tough to meet the requirements for benefits, especially if you don’t see a therapist weekly and a psychiatrist at least once a month.

Having a lawyer to help you can increase your chances of success. If you’re applying for benefits, think about finding a disability lawyer.

Understanding the SSA’s Definition of Bipolar Disorder

According to the SSA Blue Book, people with bipolar disorder feel different moods. They can feel sad or grumpy, or super excited and full of energy.

Some usual signs of bipolar disorder are:

  • Mood swings Feeling very low or very high.
  • Talking fast Speaking quickly without stopping.
  • Racing thoughts Your mind jumps from one idea to another fast.
  • Needing less sleep Feeling like you don’t need as much sleep.
  • Getting easily distracted Finding it hard to concentrate on one thing.
  • Restlessness Having muscle twitches or feeling fidgety.

These are some things that might happen if you have bipolar disorder.

The Criteria for Disability with Bipolar Disorder

To qualify for disability benefits from the SSA due to bipolar disorder, you must meet three main criteria:

1. Establishing a diagnosis of bipolar disorder:

2a. Demonstrating that your bipolar disorder significantly impairs your mental functioning:

2b. Showing that you have consistently received treatment for bipolar disorder for two years or more:

Initially, you must provide evidence to the SSA confirming your diagnosis of bipolar disorder through the manifestation of specific symptoms. Following this, you must satisfy at least one of the two additional criteria: either your bipolar disorder markedly impacts your mental capabilities or it persists despite receiving ongoing treatment for two years or longer.

1. Establishing a diagnosis of bipolar disorder

To meet the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder, individuals typically exhibit three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pressured speech Speaking rapidly, and feeling compelled to share thoughts.
  • Flight of ideas Quickly transitioning from one thought to another.
  • Easily distracted Difficulty maintaining focus on tasks or conversations.
  • Inflated self-esteem Overestimating one’s abilities or importance.
  • Decreased need for sleep Sleeping significantly less than usual without feeling tired.
  • Increase in goal-directed activity Taking on numerous new projects or tasks or experiencing psychomotor agitation (restlessness or uncontrollable movements).
  • Engaging in risky behaviors Participating in activities with potentially negative consequences without recognizing the risks involved.

These symptoms, when occurring together, are indicative of bipolar disorder.

2a. Demonstrating that your bipolar disorder significantly impairs your mental functioning

The Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at four main abilities to see how bipolar disorder affects your thinking:

  • Understanding and Learning People with bipolar disorder might have trouble understanding or remembering things, like instructions or important facts.
  • Talking and Being with Others It can be hard for them to talk to people or keep friendships because they might not understand social cues or how to act in different situations.
  • Staying Focused and Getting Things Done People with bipolar disorder might find it tough to concentrate or finish tasks because they get easily distracted or struggle to keep up the pace.
  • Dealing with Change and Managing Themselves It’s challenging for them to adapt to new situations or control their emotions. They might have a hard time sticking to routines or making decisions.

If you’re trying to prove how much bipolar disorder affects you, you’ll need documents like medical records to show how it makes it tough for you to do things on your own for a long time. you can’t do things on your own at all, that’s called an extreme limitation. If you can do some things on your own but it’s really hard, that’s called a marked limitation.

  •  Do you struggle to focus because of distractions?
  • Is it tough to keep up with work because your pace changes a lot?
  • Do you find it hard to understand what people tell you?
  • Is it difficult to handle criticism or feedback?

By giving examples of how bipolar disorder affects these things, you can make a stronger case for how it limits you. You don’t have to talk about everything, just the important stuff.

2b. Showing that you have consistently received treatment for bipolar disorder for two years or more.

To establish the severity and chronicity of your bipolar disorder to the SSA, you must provide documentation demonstrating three key factors:

  • Duration of Diagnosis Show that you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for a minimum of two years.
  • Continual Medical Treatment Provide evidence of ongoing medical care aimed at managing your symptoms. This may include therapy, psychiatric treatment, specialist consultations, or other forms of support such as assistance from family members, living arrangements, or participation in rehabilitation programs.
  • Impairment in Functioning Demonstrate that you have difficulty adapting to changes in your environment or handling new demands beyond your daily routine. This may involve struggles with basic daily tasks, difficulties in adjusting to new people or situations or experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Ensuring a consistent treatment history over the past two years or more is crucial. Any gaps or inconsistencies in your treatment may weaken your case. Consider questions such as:

  • Do I face challenges in performing daily activities independently?
  • Is it difficult for me to cope with new situations or interact with unfamiliar individuals?
  • Have I experienced thoughts of self-harm or suicide?
  • Have there been instances requiring hospitalization or changes in treatment due to severe episodes?

Providing comprehensive documentation addressing these aspects will strengthen your case with the SSA.

Understanding Disability: Definitions and Meanings

1. Bipolar disorder falls under the classification of disabilities according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA defines a disability as any mental or physical impairment that substantially affects a person’s functioning in a major area of life, criteria that bipolar disorder often meets due to its potential for significant disruptions.

However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a distinct definition of disability, leading to only certain cases of bipolar disorder being recognized as disabilities by the SSA, despite aligning with the ADA’s broader classification.

2. To qualify for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that an individual’s monthly earnings fall below a specific threshold. Moreover, their impairment must significantly restrict fundamental work-related tasks for a minimum of 12 consecutive months.

According to the SSA, for an individual to be classified as having a disability, they must also satisfy one of the following conditions:

  • The person has a condition that the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes as serious enough to stop them from working.
  • Their condition stops them from doing their old job and any other jobs the SSA thinks they could do.

Bipolar disorder is on the list of serious conditions according to the SSA. However, not everyone with bipolar disorder is considered disabled by the SSA.

Understanding Your Disability Eligibility

To be protected by the ADA, you have to show that a condition like bipolar disorder makes it hard for you to work. The ADA applies to companies with 15 or more workers.

Getting Social Security benefits can be tough. You must have a disability and either come from a low-income family or have worked for many years. Not everyone with bipolar disorder gets these benefits. About two-thirds of people are denied when they first apply.

To get Social Security benefits, you need to prove:

  • You’ve had bipolar disorder for at least a year.
  • Your condition is so serious that you can’t do your job or any other job.
  • Your disability will last for more than a year.

To get SSDI, you must have worked in a job where you paid Social Security taxes for a certain number of years. The older you are, the more years you need to have worked. For example, a 42-year-old needs 5 years of work, while a 30-year-old only needs 2.

To get SSI, you must earn below a certain amount of money, which changes depending on where you live. Also, you can’t have more than $2,000 in assets ($3,000 if you’re married).

Understanding Your Rights: ADA and Social Security

The ADA helps protect people with disabilities from unfair treatment at work. If you have bipolar disorder, your employer can’t refuse to hire you or fire you just because of that.

You need to be able to do the main parts of your job, but you can ask for changes to make it easier for you. These changes are called accommodations.

For example, you might be able to:

  • Change your work hours if needed
  • Take more breaks during the day
  • Use tools like a planner or headphones to help you focus
  • Get extra support from a coach
  • Have a pet at work for comfort

You don’t have to tell your boss about your bipolar disorder if you don’t want to. If your bipolar disorder makes it hard for you to work, you might qualify for Social Security benefits.

3 Key Tips for Getting Disability with Bipolar Disorder

Ensure consistent therapy sessions every week and monthly visits to a psychiatrist

Demonstrating a commitment to regular treatment through both therapy and psychiatric care will underscore the seriousness of your condition to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and enhance your chances of receiving benefits.

Thoroughly bolster your medical records:

Comprehensive medical documentation is crucial for your application. Collaborate closely with your physician to ensure that your medical records accurately reflect the severity of your bipolar disorder. Include any instances of hospitalization or injury resulting from your condition. Additionally, ensure that your doctor monitors and documents any pertinent factors such as weight fluctuations or other bipolar-related side effects. If you have switched primary care providers in the past, enlist the assistance of your current doctor’s office in gathering your previous medical records.

Consult with a legal professional:

Contrary to common belief, the disability application process is primarily a legal matter. While doctors can offer support for your application, they may not possess in-depth knowledge of the process. A disability lawyer specializes in navigating this process and can assist you in constructing a robust case.


In this blog, we’ve explored whether bipolar disorder qualifies as a disability and the rights and benefits associated with it. Bipolar disorder is recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and by the Social Security Administration (SSA), but eligibility for benefits depends on various factors. We’ve discussed the criteria for disability, including diagnosis, impairment in functioning, and treatment history, along with tips for navigating the application process. Additionally, we’ve highlighted the rights individuals with bipolar disorder have in the workplace and the importance of seeking legal assistance and thorough medical documentation. Understanding these aspects can provide valuable support for individuals managing bipolar disorder.


Q1. Does bipolar qualify you for disability?

A1. If a qualified medical practitioner has diagnosed you with bipolar disorder, and it’s severe enough to prevent you from working, you’re eligible to receive disability benefits according to the Social Security Listings of Impairments.

Q2. Is bipolar disorder classed as a disability?

A2. Yes, bipolar disorder falls under the category of mental health conditions that can lead to a disability, alongside conditions like dementia and depression.

Q3. Can a bipolar person live long?

A3. The life expectancy for someone with bipolar disorder is approximately 67 years old, although living with any mental health condition generally reduces life expectancy by 7-10 years. 

Q4. What is end-stage bipolar?

A4. End-stage bipolar disorder is characterized by chronic cognitive and functional impairment, often with persistent mood symptoms, and it’s associated with resistance to standard treatment options.

Q5. Is bipolar depression serious?

A5. Yes, bipolar depression can be serious. While the highs of bipolar disorder might feel enjoyable, they can also lead to risky behavior and are usually followed by periods of extreme depression.

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