Is Bipolar Disorder a Disability?

27 February 2023

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According to Mental Health America, around 2.3 million Americans have bipolar disorder. Previously referred to as manic-depressive, this mental illness is characterized by mood swings where the sufferer experiences extreme highs and lows within relatively short periods of time. 

With all the challenges that come with it, it’s worth asking, is bipolar disorder a disability? The short answer is bipolar disorder can be considered a mental health disability if the life of the individual suffering from it is majorly impacted.

Let’s get a better understanding of bipolar disorder and the legal provisions that patients may be entitled to.

What Is a Disability?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as “a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 

Does Bipolar Disorder Qualify as a Disability?

Whether or not someone with bipolar disorder is considered to have a disability depends on:

  • The severity of their symptoms 
  • How symptoms impact their ability to perform daily tasks, work, and participate in other major life activities

For those who are experiencing significant limitations due to bipolar disorder, legal protections are available through the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bipolar Disorder’s Impact on Individuals

Some people with bipolar disorder can manage their symptoms with treatment and still lead fulfilling lives while others struggle to perform daily tasks. 

Eligibility for a Disability Certificate

To be eligible for a disability certificate for bipolar disorder, an individual will typically need to demonstrate that their condition significantly impairs their ability to work, care for themselves, or participate in other important aspects of daily life. 

This may involve providing medical documentation (such as a diagnosis from a mental health professional), information about the individual’s symptoms, and how those symptoms affect their ability to function, their work history, and income level.

Why Get a Disability Certificate

With a disability certificate, you can get special benefits and allowances that are backed by the US government. These special allowances include additional support in the following areas:

  • Benefits and insurance
  • Getting caregiver support
  • Financial assistance
  • Federal and local disability programs
  • Jobs and education
  • Disability rights

You can find out more by visiting the government’s disability page.

What Is Bipolar Disorder Really?

Bipolar disorder causes extreme shifts in energy, activity levels, mood, and one’s ability to function. 

The shifts or episodes can range from manic episodes (excessive energy, elation, impulsivity) to depressive episodes (feelings of sadness, hopelessness, low energy), and sometimes a mixture of both.

What Bipolar Can Look Like

During manic episodes, individuals with bipolar disorder may feel on top of the world, full of energy, and ready to take on anything. However, this can quickly turn into impulsivity and risk-taking behavior, such as engaging in reckless spending, drug or alcohol abuse, and promiscuity. 

Mania can be a very dangerous state. Seek help if a person is experiencing symptoms of mania such as a decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, or increased talkativeness.

Depressive episodes can also be difficult to manage. Individuals with bipolar disorder may feel overwhelmed by sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. They may also experience changes in appetite, sleep, and energy levels. Additionally, individuals may find it difficult to find motivation or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed. 

Symptoms of depression, such as persistent sadness, fatigue, or thoughts of self-harm or suicide, require immediate professional help.

In between episodes, it’s important to manage symptoms and maintain stability through regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and consistent sleep habits. Developing a network of friends, family, and mental health professionals also helps. 

Different Manifestations of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that can manifest in a variety of ways. 

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder involves experiencing one or more manic episodes that last at least a week, or severe manic symptoms that require immediate hospitalization. Depressive episodes may also occur but are not necessary for a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder.

Manic episodes can feel exhilarating, but they can also lead to impulsive and risky behavior which can be detrimental to one’s health, relationships, and overall well-being. Common symptoms of mania, such as a decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, or increased talkativeness, should not be ignored.

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder involves experiencing at least one major depressive or hypomanic episode for at least four days. Hypomanic episodes can be more difficult to recognize than full-blown manic episodes, as they may be perceived as periods of high energy or productivity. Hypomania is characterized by elevated moods, increased energy, or inflated self-esteem.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder that involves chronic, less severe mood swings that last for at least two years. While the symptoms of a cyclothymic disorder may not be severe enough to meet the criteria for bipolar I or II, they can still impact an individual’s ability to function. 

Individuals who have cyclothymic disorder are at an increased risk for developing bipolar I or II.  

It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with bipolar disorder is unique and to seek professional help for accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment. 


Best Jobs for People With Bipolar

Individuals with bipolar disorder can still enjoy professional success, however, they may find it difficult to manage regular, nine-to-five jobs. For them, flexible, low-stress work is often more suitable. If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar, consider the following careers:

Freelance Work

Freelancing can offer the flexibility and control that individuals with bipolar disorder need to manage their symptoms. It can include anything from writing and graphic design to web development and consulting.

Telecommuting Jobs

Telecommuting jobs allow individuals to work from home which can be helpful for those who need to manage their symptoms or avoid triggering environments. These jobs can include roles such as customer service, software development, and data entry.


While working in healthcare can be demanding, it can also be a rewarding career for individuals with bipolar disorder. Healthcare jobs that can be adaptable for people with bipolar disorder include medical billing and coding, pharmacy technician roles, and medical transcription.


Education jobs can be a good fit for individuals with bipolar disorder as they often offer structured schedules and predictable routines. Some adaptable education jobs include teaching assistants, tutors, and online instructors.

Creative Jobs

For individuals with bipolar disorder who have a creative streak, jobs in the arts can be a good fit. These can include roles such as writers, musicians, and artists.


If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or suspect that you may have it, seek professional help and guidance without delay. Remember, you are not alone and support is available.

IMANA provides resources that can help with depression and other mental health problems. Through our website, you can find professionals and health-related articles so you can start enjoying a better quality of life.