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Can I qualify for Long-Term Disability Benefits if I suffer from Bipolar Disorder?

By Matt Lalande in Long-Term Disability on August 16, 2022

Can I qualify for Long-Term Disability Benefits if I suffer from Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder and Long Term Disability Benefits

The term bipolar disorder refers to a group of brain diseases that cause moods to fluctuate widely and uncontrollably. Bipolar disorder can cause a person to move from depression to mania, from spirit crushing and potentially life-threatening lows to dangerous highs. These extreme fluctuations have a negative impact on energy level, thoughts, behavior, and the ability to function. Although not curable, bipolar disorder can be controlled with treatment. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience fluctuating mood states that affect how they think, behave, and function. Persons with bipolar disorder have periods of depression where they experience loss of energy, insomnia or oversleeping, loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed, inability to concentrate and suicidal ideation. They also have periods of mania/hypomania where they feel elated and seem to have a lot of energy. They may also have a hard time sleeping and taming racing thoughts.

Bipolar disorder, like many other mood disorders, can also effect a person’s ability to perform daily activities and work-related obligations.

If you suffer from bipolar disorder and have been denied or cut-off your long-term disability, benefits we can help. Hiring an experienced long-term disability lawyer will help you improve your chances of getting your long-term disability benefits back on track. Matt Lalande is one of Ontario’s top long-term disability lawyers who recovered millions in wrongfully denied long-term disability benefits for claimants all over Canada – and has helped countless individuals who suffer from bipolar disorders, including bipolar type I disorder, bipolar type II disorder and cyclothymic disorders.

What is bipolar disorder exactly?

Bipolar disorder is a type of mental illness, a type of brain disorder that causes unusual mood swings, accompanied by changes in energy and activity levels. It can seriously interfere with a person’s ability to function day-to-day. Once called manic-depression or manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder’s recurring episodes of mania and depression distinguish it not only from normal mood fluctuations but also from other mental disorders. The extreme mood swings, unless treated can seriously affect well-being by damaging relationships, educations, careers, financial security, and personal safety. Like many complex mental disorders, bipolar disorder cannot be cured, but it can be effectively treated with medication, therapy, and healthy lifestyle choices. There may be a long delay years in many cases between the first appearance of symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. The disorder can be difficult to diagnose, because symptoms vary with time. Often, it is confused with depression. Other symptoms of bipolar disorder, considered in isolation, can lead to misdiagnoses. Only when the complete picture of symptoms are inventoried and considered is an accurate diagnosis possible. Once correctly identified and treated, however, you can live a rewarding, productive life largely free from the debilitating, extreme fluctuation of severe depression and mania.

What are Bipolar Manic Episodes?

Mania involves lightning-quick ideas that people barely have time to process or verbalize. Nevertheless, this does not stop them from trying, and they may talk nonstop. Speech may become nonsensical, with rhyming words for no reason, or making illogical, disconnected observations. Words may come so quickly, a listener can’t follow them, and the speaker can become hoarse from trying to keep up with his thoughts. Another symptom is seemingly boundless energy. People experiencing mania might go for days without sleep. They may exhibit a childlike blend of fascination and impatience toward activities or people. Like a child quickly engaged and just as quickly bored someone in a manic phase often flits from one pursuit to the next, from one unrealistic plan to another one.

Manic episodes may involve grandiosity resulting in the belief that you are much more accomplished, brilliant, talented, inventive, beautiful, etc. than you really are. The slightest accomplishment can be elevated to an outlandish degree. A routine task such as taking out the trash, for example, might be described as profound an experience as curing cancer. You may develop an unrealistically high level of self- confidence, and dangerous optimism. In your eyes, you may believe that nothing bad could happen to you. Insight and self-reflection fade. It can be extremely difficult to convince someone experiencing mania that something is not right, and that he should seek help. In extreme bipolar disorder cases, manic thinking can become manic psychosis, in which a person hallucinates or hears voices that support his grandiose view of himself or herself. Common delusions include having extraordinary talent or skill, or being rich or aristocratic.

What are Bipolar Depressive Episodes?

The depression experienced by a person with bipolar disorder is, as the name suggests, the polar opposite of mania and can be even more dangerous. The senses, except emotional pain, seem to shut down during such depressions. Initiative, interest, and joy evaporate. Instead of feeling grandiose, a person in a depressive state may feel guilty and worthless and think of suicide. Being alive literally be- comes painful for a severely depressed person.  

Eating and sleeping patterns during depression may be the reverse of those during mania. If someone in a manic state could not slow down to eat, he may become ravenously hungry in a depressed state, or if he took great pleasure in eating in the manic state, he may have little appetite when depressed. Rather than having so much energy that he can go without sleep, a person suffering through a depressed stage of bipolar disorder appears to have no energy at all, and may want to do little besides sleep. Also, it’s not uncommon for people in a depressed state to complain of physical aches and pains that have no physiological cause.

What are the different types of bi-polar disorder?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is the standard for diagnosing bipolar disorder. It lists the criteria medical professionals use to make an accurate diagnosis. The DSM-5 provides seven possible bipolar diagnoses. The three main types of bipolar disability are:

Bipolar Type I: The key feature of bipolar type I is the occurrence of at least one manic episode. It’s also possible that you may, but not necessarily, have experienced hypomania, or a major depressive episode. Many people with bipolar I have had episodes of serious depression before being diagnosed, and most will experience depression at some point.  It does not happen often, but it’s possible that a person could have signs of depression while manic or hypomanic. One could also have some signs of mania, or hypomania, when predominantly depressed. When this rare situation applies, your physician may describe your condition as bipolar, with a “mixed features specifier.”   

Bipolar Type II: For an individual to be diagnosed with bipolar ii disorder, they need to have experienced one or more major depressive episodes that lasted a minimum of two weeks. These bipolar episodes should have been preceded or followed by at least one hypomanic episode that lasted four days or longer. Also, one must also have and at least one hypomanic episode. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania. You will not have had a fully manic episode, however. In the past, bipolar ii disorder was sometimes considered a less debilitating illness than bipolar type I. That is not the case anymore. Your work life and your social life may be seriously affected by your bipolar disorder depression and by your unstable moods. Fortunately, persons with bipolar type ii disorders who suffer from depression often respond well to medication and therapy.

Cyclothymic Disorder: Cyclothymia is a mental illness disorder characterized by less intense cycles of both mania and depression than those seen in bipolar I and bipolar II disorders. Less intense, however, doesn’t necessarily mean less threatening, since untreated cyclothymia can lead to full-blown bipolar disorder. People with cyclothymia have periods of depression and periods where they experience symptoms of hypomania. However, they don’t have full-blown manic episodes, major depressive episodes, or mixed episodes (combining features of both depression and mania). Symptoms have to have been around for at least two years, and never absent for more than two months, for a diagnosis of cyclothymic disorder. As with hypomania associated with bipolar I, dramatic shifts in energy from high to low, unpredictable mood changes, marked changes in ability to concentrate or engage in introspection, and heightened or dulled perceptions are features of this disorder. Emotions are strong, and there may be a desire to shock or act in an outrageous manner. Unlike people with bipolar I or bipolar II, however, a person with cyclothymia may not have exceptionally powerful sexual urges. Though depression isn’t as great as in bipolar I or II, someone with cyclothymia still feels quite down when the disorder shifts in that direction. On balance, cyclothymia, though less dramatic than bipolar I or II, can have a significantly negative impact on the quality of a person’s life. It must be treated, especially since it can progress to a more serious mood disorder. The designation “substance/medication induced bipolar and related disorder” is used if you are taking, or undergoing withdrawal from, a medication or an illegal drug that is capable of producing an elevated or irritable and persistent mood that hinders your ability to function. A depressed mood may occur but isn’t required for this diagnosis. Alternatively, if a medication causes you to lose interest in all or nearly everything you do, and prevents you from finding enjoyment in your activities, then this diagnosis would also apply. Sedatives, antianxiety medications, insomnia medications, amphetamine, cocaine, and dexamethasone are examples of substances that can affect mood.

Bipolar Diagnosis

Although it is often extreme, bipolar behavior has some features in common with normal behavior. People who don’t have bipolar disorder can, from time to time, exhibit similar characteristics, particularly under stress. Crisis situations, major life changes, and so-called recreational drug use can produce such behaviors. Therefore, the presence of certain thoughts and behaviors does not automatically mean you have bipolar disorder; there can be many other explanations. Still, it is useful to be aware of key bipolar disorder warning signs, such as:

Sudden changes in behavior: these can include changes in eating and sleeping patterns, energy levels, and confidence in personal or professional activities. 

Poor concentration skills: You rarely finish a project, or do much more than necessary to complete a project. You might stay up all night working on something only to destroy it the next morning—as if to create and destroy were part of the same process. 

Extreme arrogance: You might talk about nothing but yourself, and always in the most superlative of terms. You always expect praise, even for feats of questionable value. You might make up facts about your past achievements, social connections, and family history. 

Inappropriate anger: If a situation would not evoke anger in most people but causes you to feel outrage, there is cause for concern. This is especially true if you hit and throw things or destroy property. 

Excessive meddling: If you are intent on telling other people what to do, can- not stop thinking about what they should do, and spend large amounts of time talking about other people, you should find out why you have become so obsessed.

Rapid cycling of moods: If your moods shift drastically and frequently, you should investigate. This might mean your mood episodes last months before shifting, or you could experience dramatic mood shifts in the span of a few hours. 

Sexual compulsion: It is not unusual for a person with bipolar disorder to make inappropriate sexual advances, take dangerous risks, destroy personal relationships, move in with strangers, or use up finances in order to have sex. 

Imaginary aches and pains: If you experience body aches and pains but multiple doctors find nothing wrong with you, it is a good idea to get professional help to examine your thoughts and behavior patterns. 

Mood often changes with the seasons: Some people with bipolar disorder be- come depressed in winter and manic or hypomanic in spring or summer. Others experience the reverse.

Inappropriate risk taking: You might engage in dangerous relationships, financial ventures, dishonesty, crime, or physical activities to fulfill a self- destructive desire for excitement. 

Psychosis: Many things, ranging from drugs to metabolic diseases to several mental disorders, including bipolar disorder, can cause the extreme detachment from reality that characterizes a psychotic episode. Symptoms often include delusions — false but firmly held beliefs—and/or hallucinations, which involve hearing or seeing things that don’t exist. For some people, a psychotic break from reality is the first sign of bipolar disorder.

Can bipolar disorder prevent you from working?

Bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder may prevent a person from working for short or long periods of time – or permanently. Some people that suffer bipolar disorder may not find the right combination of medications or mood stabilizers and will have only partial success with their medications, and as a result would not be able to work full time or even part time.

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health disorder which can cause a serious constellation of mood symptoms such as rapid speech, high energy, euphoria and manic thinking. Conversely, during episodes of bi-polar depression, a person’s activity level can become severely reduced. It can becomes extremely difficult to concentrate on anything – making it nearly impossible to maintain work. For example, a person going through a major depressive episode can lose focus, suffer from irritability, have trouble making decisions, and maintain emotional stability to any degree. Bipolar depression causes also cause a person to feel defeated and that nothing seems worth the effort. A person in this state has difficulty making decisions about even the smallest things. Like manic episodes, major depressive episodes can involve anger and irritability, but these do not fluctuate with euphoria; instead, they fluctuate with anxiety, fear, and agitation. A person with bipolar disorder might also cry for long periods. Even when not crying, a person suffering through a depressed stage of bipolar disorder conveys grave sadness, and a sense of despair.

Can I qualify for long-term disability benefits if I suffer from bipolar disorder?

Most people diagnosed with bipolar disorder are able to successfully manage their symptoms with medication, allowing them to keep working. However, some are not as lucky. If your condition impairs your ability to work, you may qualify for long-term disability benefits if you are able to satisfy the definition of total disability as set out in your particular insurance policy. Most, if not all policies, currently state that in order to qualify for long disability benefits during the first two years after the “onset or disability” one must be unable to complete the substantial duties of his or her own employment. Then, after two years of receiving benefits, one must satisfy the definition of total disability such that he or she is unable to complete the substantial duties of any employment for which he or she is qualified by way of education training and experience. It is the claimant that bears the burden of proving his or her own disability by way of subjective and objective medical evidence.

Has your Disability Insurer Denied your Bipolar Long-Term Disability Claim? Contact us no matter where you are in Ontario.

If, despite your best efforts, your disability benefits provider denied your claim, you still have legal recourse. It is not the end of the road. If you suffer from Bipolar type I or type II and you have been denied your long-term disability benefits, contact our disability lawyers for a free consultation today. Matt Lalande has been representing people with bipolar disorder who have been wrongfully denied their long-term disability benefits since 2003 and has recovered millions in compensation they deserve. You can reach us no matter where you are in Ontario by calling us at 1-844-LALANDE or local in Southern Ontario at 905-333-8888. You can also send us a confidential email and we would be happy to set up your free consultation today to discuss your denied benefits and the extent of which your bipolar disorder prevents you from working.

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