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Is Bipolar a Disability?

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mental health condition characterized by extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). These mood swings can affect one’s energy levels, ability to think clearly, and behavior, often disrupting daily life activities. Bipolar disorder is a complex condition that varies in severity from person to person. In the United States, bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adults – which is about 2.6% of the population age 18 or older every year. One common question that arises is whether it qualifies as a disability.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder affects millions of people worldwide, regardless of age, gender, or cultural background. It typically manifests in late adolescence or early adulthood but can occur at any age. The disorder manifests with distinct periods of intense emotion, ranging from manic episodes marked by heightened energy, euphoria, and impulsivity to depressive episodes featuring overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in activities.

The exact cause of bipolar disorder remains unclear, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Brain imaging studies have indicated differences in the structure and function of the brains of individuals with bipolar disorder compared to those without the condition. Imbalances in neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are thought to play a role in the development and progression of the disorder.

Getting diagnosed is a crucial first step.

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

Diagnosing bipolar disorder can be challenging due to the variety of symptoms and the overlap with other mental health conditions. Mental health professionals typically rely on a comprehensive assessment to make a diagnosis that includes:

  • Medical History: Gathering information about the individual’s personal and family medical history, as well as any past episodes of mood disturbance.
  • Symptom Evaluation: Assessing the presence and severity of manic, hypomanic, and depressive symptoms, which may include changes in mood, energy levels, sleep patterns, and behavior.
  • Diagnostic Criteria: Criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, provides guidelines for diagnosing mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder.
  • Physical Examination: Conducting a physical examination and laboratory tests to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to the symptoms.

Once diagnosed, individuals with bipolar disorder can work with mental health professionals to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to their needs.

Classifying Bipolar Disorder as a Disability

The question of whether bipolar disorder qualifies as a disability is dependent on several factors. These factors include the severity of symptoms and their impact on an individual’s ability to perform essential tasks related to work, education, and daily living.

In many countries, including the United States, bipolar disorder is recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other similar legislation. According to the ADA, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities encompass functions such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, and performing manual tasks.

For individuals with bipolar disorder, the condition can significantly impair their ability to maintain employment, pursue education, manage relationships, and engage in self-care activities during periods of mood instability. As a result, they may be eligible for accommodations and support services to help mitigate the impact of their condition on daily functioning.

Applying for Disability for Bipolar Disorder

Applying for disability benefits for bipolar disorder can be a challenging process, but with proper preparation and understanding of the system, it can become more manageable. Here are some steps to guide you through the application process:

  • Gather Medical Documentation: Start by collecting all medical records related to your bipolar disorder. This includes diagnosis reports, treatment history, medication records, and notes from healthcare professionals such as psychiatrists, therapists, and social workers. These documents will serve as crucial evidence to support your claim.
  • Understand the Eligibility Criteria: Familiarize yourself with the eligibility criteria for disability benefits. Typically, you must demonstrate that your bipolar disorder significantly impacts your ability to work and perform daily activities.
  • Complete the Application Form: Obtain the necessary application forms from the Social Security Administration or disability office. Fill out the forms accurately and thoroughly, providing detailed information about your medical condition, work history, and daily limitations.
  • Provide Supporting Evidence: Along with the application form, submit all relevant medical documentation to support your claim. This may include doctor’s notes, hospital records, laboratory test results, and treatment plans. The more comprehensive your evidence, the stronger your case will be.
  • Seek Professional Assistance if Needed: Consider seeking assistance from a disability advocate or attorney specializing in disability claims. They can help you navigate the complex application process, gather necessary documentation, and represent you in any appeals or hearings.
  • Follow Up on Your Application: After submitting your application, stay proactive by following up regularly with the disability office to check the status of your claim. Be prepared for potential delays and be patient throughout the process.
  • Prepare for Appeals: If your initial application is denied, don’t lose hope. Many disability claims are denied at first, but you have the right to appeal the decision. Work closely with your advocate or attorney to gather additional evidence and prepare a strong case for appeal.

Remember, applying for disability benefits for bipolar disorder requires patience, persistence, and thorough documentation. By taking these steps and seeking appropriate support, you can increase your chances of receiving the assistance you need.

Support is important for dealing with bipolar disorder.

Seeking Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Effective treatment for bipolar disorder typically involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle modifications, and support from loved ones. Treatment goals aim to stabilize mood, reduce the frequency and severity of mood episodes, and improve overall functioning and quality of life.


Mood-stabilizing medications, such as lithium, anticonvulsants, and atypical antipsychotics, are commonly prescribed to manage symptoms of bipolar disorder. These medications help regulate mood swings and prevent the recurrence of manic and depressive episodes.


Various forms of psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychoeducation, and interpersonal therapy, can be beneficial for individuals with bipolar disorder. Therapy sessions provide a supportive environment to explore thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, develop coping skills, and enhance problem-solving abilities.

Lifestyle Modifications

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, engaging in physical activity, avoiding substance abuse, and practicing stress management techniques, can complement medical treatment and contribute to symptom management. Healthcare and mental health professionals will help with creating routines that help with bipolar disorder symptom management.

Support Networks

Building a strong support network of family, friends, support groups, and mental health professionals can provide invaluable encouragement, understanding, and assistance throughout the recovery process. This support system can also help identify mood shifts, aiding in earlier intervention for bipolar disorder symptoms.

Help for Bipolar Disorder at Riviera Recovery

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition, and seeking professional help is imperative, especially when looking to file for disability. While the severity and impact of the disorder vary from person to person, it can significantly impair one’s ability to function in various areas of life. Proper guidance and support through mental health housing at Riviera can give you a new sense of independence. If you or a loved one has bipolar disorder and is seeking help to navigate the complexities – call Riviera Recovery to learn more about managing the symptoms and get help with your disability claim.