Social Security Disability and Bipolar Disorder

One of the more common mental disability claims made with the Social Security Administration is for Bipolar Disorder.  Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines four types of bipolar disorder.  “All of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. 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.”[1]
The Social Security Administration’s Listings Rules allows the finding of “Disabled” if the Claimant is able to show that he or she suffers from at least three of the following:
  1. Pressured speech;
  2. Flight of ideas;
  3. Inflated self-esteem;
  4. Decreased need for sleep;
  5. Distractibility;
  6. Involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences that are not recognized; or
  7. Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation.[2]
These must be documented in appropriate medical records.[3]
Once it is established that the Claimant suffers at least three of the above Bipolar symptoms, the next step is to establish that these symptoms either cause extreme limitations in one or marked limitations in two of the following:
  1. Understand, remember, or apply information.
  2. Interact with others.
  3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace.
  4. Adapt or manage oneself.
The Social Security Administration considers “extreme” or “marked” limitations where the Claimant’s functioning in this area independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis is seriously limited (marked) or completely incapable (extreme).[4]  The Administration uses all of the relevant medical and non-medical evidence in the Claimant’s case record to evaluate the level of mental disorder.
The most difficult part of any Disability Claim for Bipolar Disorder is to prove the level of extremity of these four areas.  If you are seeking a Disability for Bipolar Disorder, it will be likely that you will need a Medical Source Statement from a treating mental health provider (psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, etc.).  That mental health provider should specifically address the Claimant’s functional limitations (mild, moderate, marked or severe) in the above four categories.  The mental health provider should be familiar with how the Social Security Administration defines these categories (See Listing Definitions 12.00E1 – 12.00E4) and address his/her understanding of these definitions within his/her description of the Claimant’s limitations in these areas using specific examples from the Claimant’s experience when available.
Of course, the Medical Source Statement should be carefully drafted as to not over-state the Claimant’s limitations in comparison to the rest of the medical and non-medical evidence in the Claimant’s case record or it may be given less weight and viewed by the fact-finder as inconsistent with the rest of the evidence.
If you believe you have Bipolar Disorder and some (or all) of the above symptoms and limitations apply to you, you should seek the assistance of a qualified attorney that can assist you with your application for benefits.   A good attorney will help you navigate the application process and make sure you have the best representation before the Administrative Law Judge at your disability hearing.


For more information, please contact the attorneys at Hoglund, Chwialkowski, & Mrozik PLLC today.


By Tyler Rasmussen




[3] Id.

[4] Id.

Written by Jennifer Mrozik

Jennifer is a partner in the firm and practices exclusively in the area of Social Security disability law. She continues to lead efforts to find solutions for clients in the sometimes difficult Social Security claims process.

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