STEP ONE simply determines if an individual is "working (engaging in substantial gainful activity)" according to the SSA definition. Earning more than $830 a month as an employee is enough to be disqualified from receiving Social Security disability benefits.
STEP TWO implies that the bipolar disorder disability must be severe enough to significantly limit one’s ability to perform basic work activities needed to do most jobs. For example, the SSA must be able to determine that some or all of the activities below have been compromised as a result of the disability:
- walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying or handling;
- seeing, hearing or speaking;
- understanding/carrying out and remembering simple instructions;
- use of judgment;
- responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations;
- dealing with changes in a routine work setting.
STEP THREE asks if the bipolar disability meets or equals a medical listing. Bipolar is listed under mental disorders. To satisfy the listing criteria for bipolar disorder a number of variables are considered, including anhedonia, appetite disturbance, sleep disturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or thinking, thoughts of suicide and hallucinations, delusions or paranoid thinking.
In assessing bipolar disability relative to a listing level impairment, the following areas of functioning are evaluated, including restrictions of activities of daily living, maintaining social functioning, deficiencies of concentration, persistence or pace, repeated episodes of decompensation--each of extended duration.
An individual who has four symptoms present from the depressive syndrome list, as well as extreme limitation two of the four functional areas, would probably be eligible for benefits.
STEP FOUR explores the ability of an individual to perform work done in the past despite the bipolar disorder disability. If the SSA finds that a person can do past work, benefits are denied. If the person cannot, then the Process proceeds to the fifth and final step.
STEP FIVE looks at age, education, work experience and physical/mental condition to determine what other work, if any, the person can perform. To determine disability, the SSA enlists vocational rules, which vary according to age. For example, if a person is:
- Under age 50 and, as a result of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, unable to perform what the SSA calls sedentary work, then the SSA will reach a determination of disabled. Sedentary work requires the ability to lift a maximum of 10 pounds at a time, sit six hours and occasionally walk and stand two hours per eight-hour day.
- Age 50 or older and, due to the bipolar disorder disability, limited to performing sedentary work but has no work-related skills that allow the person to do so, the SSA will reach a determination of disabled.
- Over age 60 and, due to the bipolar disorder disability unable to perform any of the jobs performed in the last 15 years, the SSA will likely reach a determination of disabled.
- Any age and, because of bipolar disorder, has a psychological impairment that prevents even simple, unskilled work, the SSA will reach a determination of disabled.