Is Bipolar A Disability? Severe Bipolar Disorder Symptoms And The Inability To Work

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In general, bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can cause changes in a person's moods, energy levels, and ability to function. Many people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder live fulfilling and productive lives, while others may experience severe symptoms that interfere with daily activities and responsibilities. Bipolar disorder can be recognized as a disability, and many have sought and obtained disability benefits to make it easier for them to focus on therapy and other treatments. However, qualification for disability benefits depends on the individual's specific circumstances and situation. Speaking with a therapist online or in person may help you determine whether disability benefits may be an option for you.

Are bipolar disorder symptoms preventing you from working?

Is Bipolar Disorder A Disability? 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), bipolar disorder can be considered a disability. Those diagnosed with bipolar disorder generally have the right to apply for benefits. 

Severe bipolar disorder symptoms may have the potential to interfere with daily activities. For example, some people experiencing bipolar disorder have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, attending work, or keeping up with school obligations. This could mean that making ends meet while experiencing a mental health condition is not always a given.

People diagnosed with bipolar disorder often have a harder time working, and 30% to 60% of those with bipolar disorder may not return to full-time work after their symptoms begin.

Bipolar Disorder Disability Benefits: What’s Required?

To qualify for social security disability insurance (SSDI) or supplemental security income (SSI) benefits for bipolar disorder, you first need an official medical diagnosis. If you don't have medical records of your episodes, which is often obtained through ongoing sessions with a mental health professional, you may need to find other types of documentation to request aid.

To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits as someone with bipolar disorder, you need to submit proof that bipolar disorder severely limits your ability to work.

There are there pieces of criteria that need to be met in order for someone to qualify for SSI or SSDI:

1. Prove that you have bipolar disorder, marked by at least three of the following symptoms

  • Racing thoughts

  • Rapid speech

  • Decreased need for sleep

  • Inflated sense of optimism and self-confidence

  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking

  • New involvement in high-risk activities

  • Fidgeting, pacing, and/or excessive focus on specific goals

2. Prove that bipolar disorder significantly impairs your executive functioning, such as your ability to:

  • Remember, understand, or apply information

  • Interact with others

  • Concentrate or keep up with activities

  • Adapt to changes

3. If you can’t prove that bipolar disorder severely limits your mental functioning, then you must prove that your diagnosis is severe and considered long-term by documenting that you you’ve had symptoms of bipolar disorder for at least two years and:

  • You receive ongoing medical treatment, such as mental health therapy, medical treatment, or psychosocial support to manage symptoms. Other forms of ongoing medical treatment may include relying on family members in order to perform daily activities, like bathing or cooking.

  • You are unable to adapt to changes in your environment (i.e. new demands that aren’t already a part of your routine)

There may be additional requirements based on your state or a specific condition. To learn more, you can contact your local disability office. 

Consider Your Options

You may also want to consider if you want to apply for disability, as you could have other options. For example, it may be possible to take a medical leave of absence from your job to focus on your mental health. Many people experience bipolar disorder and still maintain successful careers. However, applying for disability can be an option if your bipolar disorder symptoms are severe. 

If you're unsure which route you'd like to take, you might benefit from discussing your options and thoughts with a therapist. A licensed mental health professional may be able to help you decide which option is best for you and the symptoms you experience. 

About The Americans With Disabilities Act 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is generally a law designed to safeguard Americans with disabilities from being discriminated against in the workplace. This law did not initially include defenses for people with bipolar disorder. However, the law was amended in 2008 to cover the condition. This may ensure that employees with bipolar disorder can receive the proper accommodations to meet their needs.

Some people with bipolar disorder might be able to return to work after a certain period. They also might be able to work a modified schedule that takes their condition into account. The ADA typically guarantees these defenses for those who have bipolar disorder. If you don't wish to seek permanent disability benefits, in many cases, your employer must accommodate you so long as you inform them that you have bipolar disorder.

The ADA normally only applies to businesses with 15 or more employees, however. If you work for a larger company, you may be able to obtain certain defenses. This can give you the time to get the treatment you need while still having a job to return to. 

Consider hiring an experienced disability lawyer

Some people hire a lawyer to help them with the disability application process. Attorneys usually know how to navigate the entire process, which can be complicated. For example, it can be common for people to get denied several times before they are approved. 

Another benefit may be that some lawyers will do the work without taking payment upfront. Instead, they may take an agreed-upon percentage of your first lump-sum disability check. This is often a helpful option for those struggling financially. You can have a legal professional fight for your rights, and they'll typically be able to handle everything for you.

Here are some tips for finding an attorney:

  • Hire locally (choose a lawyer who practices in your city or state).

  • Choose a lawyer who specializes in disability.

  • Get references (from friends, family, internet reviews, other lawyers, etc.).

  • Ask lots of questions during the initial consultation.

  • Trust your gut.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment Options

If you live with bipolar disorder, professional treatment can improve your quality of life and symptom management. Ongoing treatment can also help you build a medical record for a potential disability application. The more medical documentation you have, the better your chances of getting your case approved may be. 

There can be many ways to treat bipolar disorder. Often, treatments involve a mix of medication and mental health therapy. Talk therapy can help those diagnosed with bipolar disorder cope with symptoms and what's going on in their lives. Professional therapists often work with their patients to help them through tough times and teach them strategies to manage intrusive thoughts and emotions. 

With so many treatments available for bipolar disorder, many people can continue working and making ends meet. However, if you find that isn't possible after exploring treatment options, disability benefits may be one of your best options. 

Benefits Of Online Therapy

You can also work with licensed therapists online, which may make it easier for you to find a professional specializing in bipolar disorder and make affordable treatment more readily available. The convenience of attending sessions from home at a time that works for you can also be an advantage of online therapy.

Are bipolar disorder symptoms preventing you from working?

Effectiveness Of Online Therapy

In general, both online and in-person therapy can be considered effective treatment options for those living with mental health disorders. A 2021 study investigated the efficacy of online therapy for bipolar disorder and found that it usually significantly improved participants’ symptoms.


Bipolar disorder generally involves shifts from periods of depression to periods of mania. Some people with bipolar disorder may live with severe symptoms that prevent them from maintaining regular employment or fulfilling everyday responsibilities. In these cases, bipolar disorder may be recognized as a disability, meaning that some people with bipolar disorder may be able to receive disability benefits. If you're diagnosed with bipolar disorder and worried about taking care of yourself financially, talking to a licensed therapist may make the process of applying for disability benefits a bit easier.
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