If you have bipolar disorder, you may have questions about disability benefits and what they mean for you.

Living with bipolar disorder doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone — the challenges and symptoms of the condition can be different from person to person.

So, when is bipolar disorder a disability?

If bipolar disorder is significantly affecting how you function and the way you see yourself, filing for disability may help you get the support you need to thrive.

Bipolar disorder is considered a disability in the United States based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the United States Society Security Administration (SSA).

The ADA supports people with disabilities so they can have equal rights at work and can’t be discriminated against. This means that you can’t lose your job because you have bipolar disorder.

On the other hand, SSA provides financial benefits if you live with a disability and can’t work for income.

The ADA and SSA have their own way of defining disability, however.

The ADA considers disability any mental or physical impairment, or history of, that represents a significant challenge for you to function in the world.

In other words, if you have substantial limitations that prevent you from performing major life activities, or if others perceive you as having these, then you may be living with a disability under the ADA definition.

To qualify for disability benefits under the SSA, a severe or long-term medical diagnosis must prevent you from maintaining employment.

Can you work while living with bipolar disorder?

Living with bipolar disorder is different for everyone, and having bipolar disorder doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t work.

Even if you experience symptoms that affect your daily functioning and activities, the ADA ensures workplaces allow for reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable accommodations — such as extra break allowances — can help you manage any symptoms that may otherwise affect your work productivity.

The ADA aims to protect your civil rights if you live with a disability and works to prevent discrimination. It also aims to guarantee you have equal opportunities in:

  • employment
  • purchasing goods and services
  • government programs and services participation
  • public transportation access
  • telecommunication services

You don’t have to file any forms to be protected by the ADA. If you meet their disability definition, you automatically have the benefit of all protections granted under ADA law.

If you feel you’ve experienced discrimination because you live with bipolar disorder, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Complaints can be completed through:

When it comes to living with a disability, Social Security provides both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If you’ve received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the SSA has a 5-step evaluation process to determine if you qualify for benefits.

You’ll be asked:

  • Are you currently working? As of 2021, earning an average monthly income of more than $1,310 often prevents you from collecting disability.
  • Is your condition severe? This means that for a period of at least 12 months, bipolar disorder prevented you from performing basic work tasks such as lifting, sitting, walking, or standing.
  • Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? Yes, bipolar disorder is included in the list.
  • Can you do work you’ve done previously? SSA will assess your residual functional capacity (RFC), or how your condition has affected your work abilities.
  • Can you do any other type of work? Being unable to work one type of job doesn’t always exclude you from other forms of employment.

SSDI benefits

SSDI is for those living with a disability who have paid into Social Security. You must have worked long enough to accumulate an average of 40 credits.

At a max of 4 credits per year, most people must work 10 years to be able to apply for SSDI.

If you’re living with bipolar disorder and want to qualify for SSDI, you must meet certain criteria put in place by the SSA.

Primarily, you must have medical documentation that states you experience 3 or more of the following symptoms:

  • pressured speech or talking faster than usual
  • flight of ideas or jumping from one topic to another while sounding anxious
  • signs of grandiosity
  • decreased need for sleep
  • being easily distracted
  • engaging in activities that may result in harmful situations for you or others
  • agitation or goal-directed behaviors

You must also present severe limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, areas of mental functioning, such as:

  • remembering, understanding, and using information
  • focusing, being persistent, or keeping your pace
  • adapting to change and self-managing behaviors
  • social interaction

If you don’t present limitations in any of the above, you can also show proof that you received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at least 2 years earlier, the condition is serious and persistent, and you:

  • have received ongoing treatment that provides relief of symptoms
  • are unable to adapt to new changes in daily life

Benefits through SSDI are for those under retirement age. If you’re receiving SSDI benefits when you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same.

SSI benefits

SSI is granted based on need and isn’t affected by your work history.

This benefit is designed to help older adults, those with blindness, and those living with a disability who have limited income and need help meeting basic needs.

If you’re living with bipolar disorder and have never worked, or have little to no income, you may be eligible for SSI.

Basic requirements for SSI disability benefits include:

  • living with a disability or being at least age 65
  • having limited or no income
  • having limited possessions, assets, and resources
  • being a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or a qualified noncitizen
  • residing in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands

How to apply for SSDI or SSI

If you live with bipolar disorder and need to apply for SSDI or SSI benefits, you can apply:

  • via online form submission
  • in person, at a local SSA office
  • over the phone: 800-772-1213

Bipolar disorder can be considered a disability under both the ADA and SSA when you meet specific criteria.

The ADA can protect you from discrimination in many areas, including at your workplace and learning environments.

Living with bipolar disorder may make you eligible for SSDI or SSI under the Social Security Administration. Whether you qualify or not depends on your work history and current circumstances. For both SSDI and SSI, the definition of disability is the same.