Bipolar disorder covered under Americans with Disabilities Act

This is old news but I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while.

In 2008, bipolar disorder became a list of covered psychiatric conditions under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). While I support the move, I’m somewhat guarded about it since there are a variety of symptoms within bipolar disorder that can make it difficult for a person to perform his or her job. From PsychCentral’s post about it in September 2010:

For ADA purposes, major life activities that may be limited by a mental health disorder could include learning, thinking, concentrating, interacting with others, caring for oneself, speaking, or performing manual tasks. Sleep also may be limited in such a way that daily activities are impaired.

Someone with bipolar disorder may temporarily experience “limits” to handling life activities. A deep bout of depression or insomnia may create a need for time off or for flexible hours. An individual may need time off for doctor appointments. In the daily work environment he or she may need a quieter work area to decrease stress and enhance concentration or more frequent breaks to take a walk or do a relaxation exercise. He or she may need office supplies to help them organize and focus more effectively.

I’ve experienced all of these issues at one point or another (sleep issues have been the most frequent and debilitating) in the past and I completely understand how it can affect someone’s ability to work. However I worry that someone might use this to their advantage to cover bad behavior rather than someone who legitimately needs this protection. But alas, abuses to systems exist everywhere.

This coverage prompts me to ask the question: is bipolar disorder (and depression as well) a legitimate disability?

6 thoughts on “Bipolar disorder covered under Americans with Disabilities Act

  1. Bipolar disorder is a genuine disability for many of the people who suffer from it. I can’t believe this question is still being asked after all of the time that has been spent educating the public about this illness. Like many other chronic illnesses, bipolar people can vary in their symptomology. This is similar to people with Mutiple Sclerosis. Some are completely debilitated. Others are able to work for a long time. Others have periodic flare ups that are so severe that it stops them from holding down jobs because they never know when it will strike. I’m absolutely sick and tired of having to explain and defend myself and others who suffer from BP. Like many I worked as long as I could. I held down an executive level, well-paying job. Then things started going downhill faster and faster until finally I was unable to work even with intense treatment. Trust me. I don’t want to be disabled. Who would choose a life of poverty and pain over a fulfilling and lucrative career? I know I wouldn’t. I was, however forced into it against my will.

  2. Agreed. Abuses do happen in the system. However, I think it’s really an important piece that provides more benefits than negatives.

  3. Extremely tricky question; personally I am of the opinion that those suffering from bipolar disorder and depression need all the support they can get, though I would expect a fairly rigorous evaluation before declaring someone disabled in such a scenario.

    I know what you mean about the sleep issues; I’ve gone through that myself, having experienced serious insomnia for long periods that left me up all night and sleeping all morning – totally interrupted my circadian rhythm.

    However, I’ve overcome most of that now, thankfully.

  4. Yes, bipolar and depression are disabilities. I have depression that gets severe enough that I am unable to work. When I am able to work, I am not able to do so to my full potention–I have trouble concentrating, remembering things and getting motivated, to name a few.

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