Bipolar disorder causes significant shifts in mood, making work difficult. For this reason, the Americans with Disabilities Act always considers bipolar disorder a disability. However, the Social Security Administration sometimes does not. This prevents some people with bipolar disorder from accessing disability benefits.

This article is about bipolar disorder (BD) and disability. After explaining how different organizations classify BD, we discuss the protections and benefits that these organizations can provide. We will also explore the realities of working with BD.

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), BD is a mental health condition that causes significant psychological changes. In particular, people with BD experience obvious shifts in energy, mood, and activity levels.

The symptoms of BD can make it difficult for individuals to work. For example, those with the condition may experience intense depressive episodes, which can cause sleep and concentration problems. They can also make everyday activities seem challenging.

Despite these facts, different organizations have their own definitions of what a disability is. This means that different organizations might disagree over particular cases of BD. For instance, certain organizations might consider somebody’s BD a disability, while others might not.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) classes BD as a disability. The ADA defines a disability as any mental or physical impairment that significantly affects a person’s functioning in a major area of life. BD certainly can cause such disruptions.

However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) only classes some cases of BD as disabilities, as it uses a different definition of disability than the ADA’s. The SSA considers an individual to have a disability only if the individual earns no more than a certain amount per month. Additionally, their impairment must also severely limit basic work-related activities for at least 12 months.

According to the SSA, to count as having a disability, an individual must also meet either of the following two criteria. Firstly, the individual has an impairment that, according to the SSA’s list, is severe enough to prevent any form of work. Secondly, their impairment must prevent them from working in their previous job and in any other suitable jobs defined by the organization.

Bipolar disorder makes the SSA’s list of severe conditions. Despite this, given the organization’s definition of disability, the SSA will only consider certain people with BD as having a disability.

In the eyes of the ADA, any person with BD qualifies as having a disability. Therefore, they are eligible for the legal protections that the ADA guarantees.

However, qualifying as having a disability is more complicated with the SSA. Unlike the ADA, the SSA can provide financial assistance in the form of disability benefits. In 2018, the SSA only awarded disability benefits to 30.4% of applicants.

Different organizations have different ways of helping people with BD if they qualify as having a disability.

ADA

The ADA provides legal protections for all people with disabilities. These legal protections extend to those with mental health conditions. They include protections against discrimination at work, such as the following measures:

  • Employers cannot decline to hire a qualified person on the grounds of having a past or present disability.
  • Employers cannot demote a qualified person or refuse them training on the same grounds.
  • Employers must aim to accommodate a person’s disability unless this would be unduly difficult.
  • Employers cannot demand information about a person’s past or present disability status.

A person can explore more information about legal protections on the ADA’s website.

SSA

The SSA provides two main types of benefits for people with disabilities: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

According to the SSA, SSDI entitles a person to a maximum of four credits per year. These credits can vary in amount. However, the SSA notes that a person entitled to SSDI benefits receives an average of roughly $1,362 per month.

As the SSA also explains, SSI entitles a person to monthly credits, and that each credit cannot exceed $914.

The SSA notes that the application process is the same for both SSDI and SSI.

An individual can apply by phone, online, or in person. In every case, they must provide information about their disability and any recent employment. Officials will then decide whether the individual may receive disability benefits.

Information

The SSA asks for information about several criteria, including:

  • an individual’s examinations and treatments, including the names and contact details of the doctors or clinics involved
  • an individual’s medical tests, including who recommended the tests
  • an individual’s medications, including who prescribed them and why
  • the date when BD began negatively affecting the individual’s work
  • the kinds of work the individual did before BD made work impossible

Some of this information will help the SSA determine whether the individual meets their definition of being disabled. However, to qualify for SSDI or SSI, an individual must also meet certain financial requirements.

Financial requirements

When it comes to SSI, the SSA explains that these vary from state to state. As for SSDI, the SSA explains that an individual must have earned no more than $1,350 per month if not blind or no more than $2,260 per month if blind.

The individual may then receive one SSDI credit per $1,510 they have earned, with a maximum of four credits per year.

The symptoms of BD can make it difficult for people to work.

According to a 2022 study, the average person with BD will be unable to work for around 65.5 days per year. Another 2020 paper suggests that between 30% and 60% of those who develop BD cannot fully regain their capacity for work.

However, although BD presents a serious obstacle to employment, it does not always make working impossible.

There is no scientifically approved list of jobs for people with BD.

According to a 2020 review, people with the condition may be more likely to exhibit creative personality traits. For this reason, a creative job may be particularly attractive to some individuals with BD. However, scientists have yet to confirm this idea.

BD is a mental health condition. Therefore, the most suitable jobs for people with BD will put less strain on their mental health. For instance, highly stressful jobs may be inappropriate for individuals who have the condition. Additionally, research suggests stress can worsen BD.

BD is a serious mental health condition. Several organizations classify BD as a disability and offer support on that basis.

However, these organizations have different definitions of disability, so they cannot help everyone with BD.