Monthly Archives: August 2013

Bipolar Disorder and Social Security Disability

Today’s post is a special guest blog post written by Molly Clarke, a writer for the Social Security Disability Help Blog. Enjoy!

Bipolar Disorder and Social Security Disability Benefits

The symptoms of bipolar disorder manifest as serious shifts in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior – ranging from intense mania to severe depression. Cycles of bipolar disorder can last for days, weeks, or even months—interfering with a person’s ability to complete daily activities. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can also impede job performance, resulting in time spent away from work and even the inability to maintain employment.

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that individuals suffering from illness or injury may require financial support. For this reason, the SSA offers Social Security Disability benefits to those who cannot work because of a serious health condition. These benefits are available to young adults who cannot work due to disability or illness, including those with bipolar disorder. This article is intended to give you an overview of the Social Security Disability system and outline the information that you need to know before applying for benefits.

Social Security Disability Benefit Programs

Social Security Disability benefits are available through two different programs provided by the Social Security Administration. The first of these programs is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI is available to disabled individuals who have worked and paid Social Security taxes in the past. The benefits received through this program are largely dependent on an applicant’s work history. For more information about SSDI, visit this page.

The second benefit program available is more conducive to the needs of young adults. This program is called Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and was created to provide benefits for disabled individuals of all ages who earn very little income. Due to lack of employment experience and high financial need, it is often easier for young adults with bipolar disorder to qualify for benefits through the SSI program than through the SSDI program. To qualify, applicants must fall within the SSA’s specific financial limits. Learn more about qualifying for SSI here.

It is important to note that applicants who qualify for SSDI but do not exceed SSI financial limits can potentially qualify for benefits from both programs.

Medical Qualifications

Aside from financial need and inability to work, applicants must also qualify medically for disability benefits. In order to determine an applicant’s medical eligibility, the SSA references the blue book – an official manual of disabling conditions and medical criteria. Bipolar disorder is covered under section 12.04 of the blue book entitled Affective Disorders.

This blue book listing requires that applicants with bipolar disorder have a medically documented two-year history of bipolar disorder that has affected their ability to work. To meet this listing, applicants must also be currently receiving treatment. When evaluating a claim based on bipolar disorder, the SSA will look for evidence of one of the following:

• Repeated, length episodes of decompensation
• Frequent decompensation
• A year or more in a highly supportive living arrangement with a need for the continuation of this arrangement.

Access this complete blue book listing here.

Social Security Disability Application Process

Before applying for disability benefits, applicants should collect copies of all relevant medical records. These may include documentation of your diagnosis, history of hospitalizations, physical evaluations, mental evaluations, history of treatments, and any other related documents. You should also collect written statements from all treating physicians that can attest to your symptoms and inability to work.

Once you are ready to begin the Social Security Disability application process, you can do so online or through a Social Security office. The actual application is made up of several forms, it is important that you complete forms thoroughly and accurately. Any missing or inconsistent information can cause delays in your claim.

Receiving a Decision

Once an individual has applied for benefits, it may be several months before they receive a decision on their claim. Applicants whose initial claim is denied have 60 days in which to appeal the decision. Although the appeals process takes more time, it is often a necessary step toward being approved for benefits. In fact, many more applicants are approved during the appeals processes than during the initial application.

Although the application and appeal process are sometimes difficult, applicants must remember that the Social Security Disability programs were designed to help them. After the application process is complete and benefits are awarded, your financial burden will be lessened and you will be able to focus on your health.

For more information about Social Security Disability benefits and bipolar disorder, visit Social Security Disability Help.

Blood Test May Predict Suicide Risk

According to a recent study (published in Molecular Psychiatry) of bipolar patients in Indiana, molecules in the blood appear to indicate an individual’s current degree of suicidal intent.

The study was done on a small sample of the bipolar population (nine patients) so is really just a preliminary sort of study, however the findings were pretty interesting.

Researchers found that there are 41 enzymes and proteins in the blood that levels appear to fluctuate based on the patient’s level of suicidal risk.

One enzyme in particular called SAT1 was elevated in subjects who were feeling suicidal. Researchers also found that postmortem studies of the blood of subjects who had commit suicide had levels of SAT1 even greater than the living subjects researchers were studying.

Researchers also identified four biomarkers that may be used to indicate potential suicide risk in a patient even if the patient is not currently suicidal.

What an interesting find! You can find the whole article (with more detail) here.

An Unexpected Twist

My health suffers the most in two particular areas; mental health (bipolar disorder and anxiety) and headaches.

I’ve had just about as much bad luck with treating the headaches as I have treating bipolar disorder (which is really saying something). Generally the amount of pain I feel is severe, and it is not so much a matter of if I’ll get a headache, but when it happens each day.

Something pretty miraculous has happened the last two weeks though. I haven’t had a headache in 12 days. 

This is pretty much unheard of for me. I can’t think of a time in the last two years at least that I went this long without having a headache, which begs the question: what changed?

The only thing I can think of is that I stopped taking Geodon, and though I hadn’t been taking it the entire length of time I’ve had trouble with headaches, I did take it for the last year or so.

Could the Geodon have been contributing to the headaches?

At the time I was taking it, I really couldn’t have said. The fact that I’m having the first headache-free period in a matter of years though suggests it might’ve, which is a real unexpected twist.

It is so hard knowing how different medications are affecting your body, sometimes you can tell when you start them, and other times you can’t tell until you stop.

The more times passes, the more convinced I am that stopping this particular medication was a very good thing.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

There was a point during this round of depression where I was facing what seemed to be too much support.

I was getting calls several times a week where I had to repeat anecdotes about how poorly I was doing, what my doctor was doing, and the like, and I admit, I found it all extremely overwhelming.

Sometimes the best way to support someone with bipolar disorder is to be open to talking about their symptoms or situation with them. Other times, the best way to support someone with bipolar disorder is to help them focus on something else. 

I know the people calling me had good intentions, and were genuinely concerned about my health. However, I was spending every waking moment trying not to dwell on just how terrible I really felt. Anytime I had to talk about it with someone, it would send me back into this spiral of negative, hopeless thinking.

Yes, I am a woman with bipolar disorder, but sometimes I need to be treated like a woman. Just a woman. Tell me about your day, or your job, or a joke, and allow me to relate to you in any other general human way.

There is a balance when it comes to being open about bipolar disorder. When I feel fine, it isn’t a problem to talk about it or explore peoples ideas and thoughts and whatnot. When I am not doing well, however, dwelling on this stuff really negatively affects my health. 

So I admit, a little embarrassed, that yes, I dodged a few phone calls while facing the worst depression I’ve had in months the last few weeks. To some extent, people consider isolation to be a negative thing, but sometimes isolation means avoiding stressors that will ultimately make things worse.

I realize it seems a little backwards to complain about too much support, but I think there are ways of being supportive that don’t include quid pro quo about my health when I am feeling extremely overwhelmed and vulnerable.

Like anything else, the open bipolar relationship is a work in progress. I know that everyone who reached out to me meant well, but we’re all still learning what helps and what doesn’t, where the boundaries are, and how to be supportive, in the best sense of the word.

Getting Better All The Time

Things are slowly getting better. The depression is dissipating, and each day I can do a little more, with a little more motivation.

I don’t know if this round of depression was because of hormones, or stopping taking the Geodon, or a natural bottoming out after the hypomania I had been having, or some other reason, but I’m glad it didn’t last as long as my bouts of depression tend to last (forever).

My energy level is not quite up to normal (as I found out when I went hiking on Sunday) but it is improving as well.

I’m hoping this means the roadblocks in my head keeping me from writing will be melting away soon, and I am optimistic that this is the case with the way things have been going.

I definitely have more insights to come, so thanks for hanging in there.

NAMI’s Peer to Peer

Last week I finished a course through NAMI called Peer to Peer, basically a 10 week course about recovery for those with mental illness taught by people who have mental illness.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) you should definitely check them out. NAMI hosts support groups and all kinds of educational classes for people with mental illness and their friends and families, as well as playing a part in national fundraising walks and interaction with local lawmakers in an attempt to get better rights for those with mental illness. They are a national organization with chapters all over the country, you can visit their website here to find one near you!

I have done a lot of research and been pretty involved in the mental health community in Seattle so I wasn’t really sure what Peer to Peer would offer me. Would it be full of information I already knew, or would it go beyond the limitations of what I already know as a consumer and a support person?

Initially I concluded that just having a group of people to go meet with once a week would be helpful in its own right (getting me out of the house and socializing) so I signed up.

There were things that I already knew, and some interesting tidbits that piqued my interest (that I’ve already written a little about here). The class covered things from different diagnoses to making sure your health care provider is working for you to hospitalization situations and even what to do if you find yourself in jail.

I can’t say I agreed with every minute detail of the course, but overall I think it was educational, even for someone who knows a lot about how the mental healthcare system works (like me).

The course was free and was a great place to meet like minded people, so I would really recommend it!

Again, for more information check out NAMI’s website to find a branch near you.

Kids With Unexplained Stomach Pain Linked to Anxiety Disorders Later in Life

This article caught my attention on the news a couple days ago, primarily because I was a kid who had a lot of “unexplained” stomach aches and I have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as an adult.

Researchers are saying that kids who have a lot of unexplained stomach pain as children often develop anxiety and depression as adults.

Check out the full article here, as well as a couple videos.