Recently, a reader wondered if having two diagnosed mental health issues could help him qualify for Social Security disability. “I have both bipolar and borderline personality disorder, so am I eligible to receive disability benefits?” Since the Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t award benefits based only on your diagnosis, it’s hard to say. We’ll explain what the SSA looks for when you file a disability claim for mental health issues below.
How the SSA Evaluates Claims for Bipolar Disorder and Other Mental Health Issues
The good news is, the SSA’s Blue Book does include a listing for depression-related mental illnesses. This includes bipolar disorder and what it calls “personality and impulse-control disorders,” which includes BPD. You can read the claim evaluation criteria listed there, but it’s quite difficult to understand unless you’re a doctor. Regardless of your diagnosis, the part that matters when you apply for disability benefits is always the same. Here’s what the SSA looks for when you file your application, no matter what health issues you have:
- Are you working right now? If yes, the SSA automatically denies your claim.
- If you’re not working, is your bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder or other mental health issue specifically to blame? (Your honest answer to this question must be “yes.” Then, the SSA will schedule an exam with one of their doctors who can confirm your bipolar and BPD diagnoses.)
- Can you prove you cannot work at all for 12 months because of your bipolar and BPD diagnoses? This is the minimum requirement to qualify for monthly SSD benefits. If their doctor believes you can control your symptoms with regular medication and/or therapy, they’ll deny your claim.
- Have you seen a doctor during the last 90 days? If you’re not currently under a therapist or medical doctor’s treatment for bipolar and BPD, that’s a problem. The SSA will likely deny your claim without recent medical evidence showing you receive regular care for bipolar and BPD.
Eligible applicants also must work at least five in the last 10 years full-time while paying Social Security payroll taxes. Finally, you must be younger than 65 years old when you apply and not currently receiving any Social Security benefits.
Success Tips to Improve Your Chances for Disability Approval
Here’s a list of six success tips that can greatly increase your odds for SSD approval:
- Keep a symptom diary showing how bipolar and BPD affects your daily life. If you struggle to do things like feed/clothe yourself, shower, run errands, cook, or clean, full-time work likely isn’t possible.
- List all drugs your doctor prescribes to treat your bipolar and borderline personality disorders. Write down any other prescriptions you take, including the dosage and frequency.
- Ask your pharmacy to print a list of every prescription you filled during the past year. It should be free, and you’ll want to submit this with your application for Social Security disability benefits.
- Write down all your prescription drug side effects, as well as any from over-the-counter drugs you take regularly. Can you drive a car or operate machinery on your medication? Do you have trouble staying awake, following verbal directions, or getting along with people in the workplace? Side effects like these can make it difficult (or impossible) to work full-time.
- Schedule regular doctor’s appointments to treat your bipolar disorder and BPD. Otherwise, expect the SSA to reject your claim. Regular therapy or doctor’s appointments show you’re doing everything possible to manage your symptoms/conditions.
- List any other health problems you have and how they affect your daily life. That’s because 7 out of every 10 approved SSD claims includes multiple health problems. Imagine you’re placing a bet that requires you to roll a set of dice. Right now, you have two dice in your hand (bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder). Every additional health issue puts another die in your hand. Be sure to pick up every die available to you before making your roll!
Related: How to Apply for the Lump-Sum Social Security Death Benefit
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.