Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
I am 62 and unemployed and I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to find a full time job at this point. When I was younger, I was a financial controller and made quite a bit of money and traveled all over the world. Now I am lucky if someone will consider me for a temp accounting job at $15 an hour.
Here’s a question that I am torn over. I could probably qualify for disability, because one of the things that caused me to lose my last big job was a nervous breakdown…and I have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and some other problems. My question is: is this a good idea? I am getting so stressed out from my inability to find gainful employment that an anxiety disorder is accelerating and I’m more depressed than ever. So I could use the help. But if I go on disability, it’s going to make me feel like a loser.
Every state has different rules and eligibilities for disability. Disability is an insurance program that everyone pays into. The definition of disability is that one is unable to earn substantial gainful activity (about $800/m) because of a mental or physical impairment which has lasted or expected to last 1 year. This isn’t the same thing as being unemployable, but that is in theory. In reality, at least in the state I work in, disability is often used as another social welfare program.
People are on disability for a range of reasons, from people who are medically ill and truly cannot work to people who just don’t feel they can work. The way that the rules are written it is really hard to prove disability for medical reasons but relatively easy to prove for psychiatric reasons. As a result, most disability lawyers send people to psychiatrists no matter what the issue.
Another problem is the DSM- the book of psychiatric diagnosis. At this point in psychiatry, diagnoses are just based on clusters of symptoms- not causes. Anyone who is having a hard time for any psychosocial reason whatsoever tends to meet the criteria for some major psychiatric disorder. Even worse, if you go to a psychiatrist the insurance company mandates a diagnosis. There is no “well” visit for psychiatry as there is for all other medical billing. Because there is always a diagnosis that can necessitate treatment i.e. a prescription, this is why psycho-pharmaceuticals are a multi-million dollar industry. The whole system is skewed in their direction.
Another factor is that having a major psychiatric illness is not necessarily correlated with being unable to work. Many CEO’s, political and religious figures, military, sports figures, composers, entertainers, and royalty have had major psychiatric disorders.
You have to make a decision you can live with. Talk to a disability lawyer. If they think you have a case, their services are free- they get a percentage of your settlement if successful. Consultations cost nothing and it is always good to know your rights.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
I’d like to add that disability is proportionate to your lifetime income, just as social security is. While some may get as much as $1,800 or more, others can qualify for less than $600. Check your own tally before making decisions! Also- if you are well under 60 in age, be careful about stipulations. A friend of mine was on disability because of cancer at age 54 and discovered that if she went off it and got work again, disability would expect her to pay off what they’d given her because she was now able to work! If she stayed on disability until after she was 60, the point would become moot.
I have no idea what the appropriate choice is for you but I do know that when people stop moving, they go downhill a lot faster. Sometimes disability can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is most certainly not meant to belittle anyone who is seriously disabled. But honestly? That doesn’t sound like you. I’d keep fighting for a while. You’ll know when it’s time to give up.