Schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder are mental health conditions that cause severe emotional fluctuations that can prevent a person from performing even simple activities of daily living, much less work. Often times, a person who suffers from bipolar disorder will have periods when they are doing fine, followed by episodes of intense and euphoric emotional high. Unfortunately this “high”, or mania, is usually followed by a period of severe depression. People who suffer from schizoaffective disorder have similar fluctuations in mood.
Unfortunately, it is often difficult to prove that a person who suffers from bipolar disorder is disabled. This is true because, during relatively symptom free periods, people with bipolar disorder are typically high functioning and usually have periods of successful employment. If you have long suffered from bipolar disorder but have long periods of successful employment, it could appear a lot like you can work. However, if you have lost your job numerous times due to episodes of mania or depression, this is good evidence that you cannot maintain employment.
The key to winning a disability case based on schizoaffective or bipolar disorder is mental health treatment. It is very important that you are seen by a psychiatrist to be properly diagnosed and treated, even if you also regularly see a counselor. Both your counselor and psychiatrist are critical in helping you obtain your disability benefits. Their opinion that your condition is so severe that you cannot work is key to winning your case. For that reason, you might want to ask them what their position is on disability benefits. If they typically do not fill out forms or support people for disability (some do not) then you might want to see another mental health care provider.
It is also very important you are compliant with the treatment recommended by your mental health care providers. It is common for a person who suffers from bipolar disorder to stop taking their medications when they are experiencing a manic episode. Be aware, this could negatively affect your claim unless we are able to get your psychiatrist to acknowledge that this is symptomatic of your condition.
Even if your condition is not severe enough to be considered disabled by itself, the symptoms of your condition could be considered disabling in combination with your other physical and emotional problems. The Social Security Administration’s listing of impairments has rules that define how severe your condition needs to be for you to be considered disabled on the basis of your bipolar disorder alone.
12.04 Affective disorders: Characterized by a disturbance of mood, accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome. Mood refers to a prolonged emotion that colors the whole psychic life; it generally involves either depression or elation.
The required level of severity for these disorders is met when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied, or when the requirements in C are satisfied.
- Medically documented persistence, either continuous or intermittent, of one of the following:
- Depressive syndrome characterized by at least four of the following:
- Anhedonia or pervasive loss of interest in almost all activities; or
- Appetite disturbance with change in weight; or
- Sleep disturbance; or
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation; or
- Decreased energy; or
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness; or
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking; or
- Thoughts of suicide; or
- Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking; or
- Manic syndrome characterized by at least three of the following:
- Hyperactivity; or
- Pressure of speech; or
- Flight of ideas; or
- Inflated self-esteem; or
- Decreased need for sleep; or
- Easy distractibility; or
- Involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences which are not recognized; or
- Hallucinations, delusions or paranoid thinking; or
- Bipolar syndrome with a history of episodic periods manifested by the full symptomatic picture of both manic and depressive syndromes (and currently characterized by either or both syndromes);
- Resulting in at least two of the following:
- Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or
- Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or
- Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or
- Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration;
- Medically documented history of a chronic affective disorder of at least 2 years’ duration that has caused more than a minimal limitation of ability to do basic work activities, with symptoms or signs currently attenuated by medication or psychosocial support, and one of the following:
- Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration; or
- A residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause the individual to decompensate; or
- Current history of 1 or more years’ inability to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement, with an indication of continued need for such an arrangement.