Syndicated from the Bipolar Blog

An intense period of mania or depression can make you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. You may feel exhausted. You may be unable to concentrate or remember certain details. You may become intolerant of colleagues and others you must deal with on the job. Your family life is also very likely to be chaotic and stressful.

Unfortunately, if you can walk into your local Social Security office, talk to the receptionist, and complete the paperwork, the Social Security Administration is likely to conclude that you don’t qualify for Social Security disability benefits. (In a previous post, “Do You Qualify for Social Security Disability Pay?” we reveal just how difficult the Social Security Administration makes it to qualify for disability.)

This doesn’t mean it is impossible to qualify. My wife qualified for several months she was unable to work and received benefit payments for herself and both of our children. (She enlisted the assistance of an attorney who specializes in dealing with the Social Security Administration.) Following are some suggestions that may improve your chances of success:

  • Consult your doctor and therapist: Their approval, support, and assistance are critical to helping you establish the fact that bipolar disorder prevents you from working and that any work during this stage of your illness can worsen your condition. If you’re not currently seeing a doctor for treatment, the SSA is very unlikely to approve your claim.
  • Keep your doctor appointments: Seeing your doctor regularly provides you with documented proof of your bipolar disorder and keeps your doctor in the loop, ensuring that she will support your appeal. You can’t expect your doctor to cooperate if she hasn’t seen you in three months.
  • Have your doctor complete an RFC form for you: Your doctor’s evaluation of your ability to perform work-related tasks often carries more weight than your personal opinion. Usually, the SSA has a form that it sends to your doctor as part of the process of applying for disability, so you may not have to request it from your doctor.
  • Document everything: In Bipolar Disorder For Dummies, we include a mood chart that can help you keep a record of how you feel from day to day. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) has a Wellness Toolbox that includes an excellent personal calendar to keep track of the ways your disorder affects your moods and life. Documented evidence can help your case.
  • File immediately: Disability claims can take several weeks to months to process and often require that you file multiple appeals. Most disability attorneys won’t even talk to you until you’ve filed a claim and been denied, so don’t waste your time consulting an attorney until you have filed and been denied. Of course, there is a chance that you will file and be approved, in which case, you’ve saved yourself the attorney fees!
  • Appeal: If the SSA denies your initial claim, which it does 60 to 70 percent of the time, consult an attorney or other legal representative to file an appeal. A judge can override the SSA’s original decision, but you may need to appear at a hearing, in which case you should have a qualified legal representative. Be prepared to appeal several times.
  • Keep copies: Copy everything before submitting it. If you talk to someone on the phone, jot down the person’s name and contact information and notes about what the person told you.
  • Be nice: Whenever you want something done, you need to treat the people involved with courtesy and respect. Most SSA employees are inundated with paperwork and phone calls—giving them grief can only hurt your case, not help it. Give yourself time to cool off before calling if you’re angry or hurt about needing to appeal or not receiving a response as quickly as you’d like.
  • Follow up: Wait a few days after you mail your claim and any pertinent paperwork; then call to make sure that the SSA received the documents. If you can establish a good relationship with an individual at your local SSA office, you have a better chance of keeping everything straight.

Don’t give up! The SSA may seem to be doing all that it can to discourage people from filing for disability benefits, but persistence often pays off, and the SSA is becoming more sensitive to the fact that bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses can be as debilitating as physical disabilities. If you can’t work for a while because of your disorder, you have every right to receive benefits.