Disability benefits for mental conditions: bipolar disorder

We touched briefly on the Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. story and the unspecified “mood disorder” he was said to have sought treatment for in a post we published last month. As you may recall, that blog post was largely focused on depression, which is one of the most if not the most referenced mental impairment cited in disability benefit applications.

We now know that Rep. Jackson has actually been diagnosed with bipolar disorder — a type of depression many Oregon residents already receive disability benefits for — and wanted to talk briefly about that specific condition as it relates to Social Security Disability benefits.

The medical community currently believes that bipolar disorder “is most likely caused by a complex set of genetic and environmental factors” affecting the parts of the brain that control emotion. It is typically characterized by exaggerated mood swings, is not uncommon and can be effectively treated.

As the Mayo Clinic (where Jackson sought treatment) recently noted in an official statement, bipolar II disorder (also commonly referred to as “manic depression”) is less severe than bipolar I disorder. The statement also noted that Congressman Jackson “is responding well to the treatment and regaining his strength.”

While we’re genuinely relieved that Rep. Jackson is doing well, most people who suffer from bipolar disorder have a much more difficult time overcoming its effects. The question is: at what point do those effects become severe enough to make a person eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits?

As with other types of physical or mental impairments, the Social Security Administration has established specific medical criteria that must be satisfied before the agency will approve a claim for disability benefits. Those criteria include specific symptoms such as the loss of interest in all activities and hyperactivity, as well as specific effects — all of which must be carefully documented in language the SSA will understand.

Source: Wall Street Journal, “Jesse Jackson Jr. Has Bipolar Disorder, Mayo Clinic Says,” Douglas Belkin, August 13, 2012