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Society's Views Regarding Recipients of Social Security Disability

Updated on March 11, 2016

Bipolar Disorder Stigma

I was awarded Social Security Disability in April, 2011, after my claim was denied twice. I hired an attorney in Bellingham, Washington that handled SSDI claims. After about 2 years, he was able to win my case. My attorney, the Social Security Judge, and myself, had a conference call, and at that time the Judge decided to give me SSDI. My claim was based upon my bipolar disorder. I was not able to hold down a job, due to my problems dealing with the public. All of my work experience was in customer service, dealing with the general public. I decided to take voluntary separation with pay, when I was a Telephone Operator at US West Communications in Corvallis, Oregon. I was called into my manager's office three times, because of being rude to customers. My manager told me that I would be fired if I had any more complaints from customers. Her comments really scared me, since I did not want to be fired. About 3 of the supervisors told me that the managers always threatened to fire co-workers, due to customer complaints. Most of the time they were simply harsh words, but the managers rarely fired anyone. I still had the fear of getting fired, and I could not trust what my supervisors had told me. I really don't like to blame my problems regarding employment on my bipolar illness, but it is a fact, determined by mental health professionals, that the majority of people who suffer with bipolar illness are only able to handle their positions for a short period of time. It is believed that we are unable to cope with the anxiety and stress involved with employment. A brain disorder, which causes a chemical imbalance, affects most of us detrimentally.

The following is a quote from Wikipedia: “The right to social security is recognized as a human right and establishes the right to social security assistance for those unable to work due to sickness, disability, maternity, employment injury, unemployment or old age.”

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

I tend to agree with what Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison states about this mental condition which affects our minds. I now realize that I suffered with this condition as a young child and throughout my teen years. When I look back to those early stages of my life, I wondered if I even had a brain. Kind of like the Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz. I also have many fears, which I've never been able to overcome. Dogs biting me when they barked, riding horses, shooting firearms and loud noises like bombs. Sometimes motorcycles even scare me. Dr. Jamison states, ”Bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression) is a brain disorder marked by bouts of extreme and impairing changes in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms may emerge either suddenly or gradually during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood.

A teen with untreated bipolar disorder (BPD) will experience mania (highs) and depression (lows). These highs and lows usually occur in cycles, varying in length from hours, days or weeks. However, bipolar disorder does not affect everyone in the same way.

The frequency, intensity, and duration of symptoms as well as response to treatment vary dramatically. There is presently no cure for bipolar disorder but there are a lot of treatment options, including medication, therapy and lifestyle choices. Seeking help and adhering to a treatment plan can make a big difference in the life of a teen with BP. Genetic discoveries are expected to lead to more accurate diagnosing, better treatments, and perhaps a cure.” [1]

People Label Those With Bipolar Illness

I suffered from severe depression, and my moods were mostly sad, often times to the point of tears. I had insomnia, difficulty with sleeping, and a loss of energy. On many of my jobs, these symptoms of bipolar disease contributed to my being unable to cope with the stress of dealing with the public. Later in my life, my bipolar even led to my wife divorcing me. I hope you, my readers, can learn more about this disease. I'm not trying to blame, but simply stating a fact about symptoms of bipolar disorder, and how it affects my brain. I've been in treatment for 8 years, undergoing therapy, learning how to cope with it, and find ways to be more positive about life. These counseling sessions have been extremely helpful, and they have helped me to improve my impulsiveness and compulsive behavior.

Since being awarded SSDI in 2011, I have been criticized by many people that believe "People such as myself, should not be living off the government, due to being bipolar". There is a terrible stigma placed upon those that receive their Social Security benefits at an early age. Often times we are viewed as being weak and lazy, blaming everything in our lives on having bipolar illness. It is their belief, "That we are capable of holding down a job." In my opinion, these folks don’t even understand my illness, mainly because they have never experienced it. Many have not had members of their families that suffer from mental illness. Most of the people that have criticized me have never even read material that deals with this important subject. Recently, I had a heated discussion with my landlord. He began raising his voice and getting in my face, saying “It’s people like you, that take their social security early, when you’re capable of working, that are ruining it for people like my daughter, who probably won’t even see social security in her lifetime.” I simply replied, “You don’t even have any business talking to me about this subject. I am one of your renters and I’m paying my rent to you every month. You have never experienced what I have had to deal with, living with bipolar disorder.” He finally calmed down, and seemed to somewhat understand what I was trying to convey to him about my illness; however, I ended up moving from his large home to a better environment. I have had several friends that could never understand my illness. I have lost most of my friends, leading to a poor self image and feelings of inadequacy. You cannot imagine the loneliness I have had to endure throughout my entire adult life.


Conclusion

It is my hope that society will start to understand how bipolar affects the lives of so many people. I also hope that they would take the time to read material that deals with mental illness, especially bipolar manic depression. I really would like to see the stigma that “he or she is capable of holding down a job. They’re just weak and lazy and blaming everything on being bipolar” to disappear.

I would like to close my article with this wonderful quote by a writer who expresses many of the feelings I've dealt with for the majority of my life. I hope to be able to learn from this writer's views. ”Humans fear what they do not understand, and bipolar disorder is one of the least well understood mental illnesses, a group of medical conditions that are, in general, not well understood. The brain is still a mystery, and until better technology becomes available to explore it, the explanations put forth for bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are unlikely to become much less wrong. Nevertheless, possible explanations do currently exist. They simply tend to become lost in the wake of everything that is not understood, and downplayed because they have not been “proven.” A more detailed explanation of the biological causes of bipolar disorder should alleviate most of the stigma associated with it. If it can be linked to specific biological processes or structures in the brain, bipolar disorder will cease to be madness. It will cease to be a mysterious affliction out of the pages of Alice in Wonderland and become instead, a manageable, perhaps even curable illness. Whether or not such an explanation is possible remains to be seen, but that certainly does not mean that anyone should give up on the search.” [2]

Opinion Poll On Bipolar Illness

How do you feel about people who are suffering with bipolar illness?

See results

References

[1] Facts About Bipolar Disorder by Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D

[2] Aeraeber’s blog: Disease or Madness: Society’s Perception of Bipolar Disorder

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