Should I apply for disability?

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.

Any thoughts?

Old Yeller

Dear Yeller,

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

Granny says:

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.


About Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Dr. Brilliant Cliché and the Granny Dr. are a fictional web presence and advice blog. Together we offer a joint perspective that is deep but not academic, entertaining but not fluff, and educated yet street smart. By joining the internet community we hope to share thoughts and stimulate insightful conversation around pressing issues that affect us all. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. (This is not a site for therapy nor does it intend to replace medical or other professional care. ) You can leave comments here or email The Dr. at and don’t forget to like us on facebook. Our facebook page is Dr. Brilliant Cliche
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One Response to Should I apply for disability?

  1. Ken Bryant says:

    Dear Yeller,
    I know it is a lot to suggest this for one who is suffering from bi-polar disorder right now. But all the experts around you are professionals only in their own right. You are still the best candidate to piece together everyone’s (lawyers, doctors, perspective employers) opinions. First, can you cope with the stress you feel right now caused by your search for work? If so, then perhaps searching for employment right now is the direction for you. This “livable” stress may be one of your best tools in sorting out everyone’s opinions of your situation. You’ll be looking at some immediate concerns, your financial obligations, coping with any negative comments from family and others, and monitoring the status of your depression and anxiety.
    If worrying about gainful employment is too stressful there are other factors to consider. Since your disorder is real, what other factors (besides looking for work) are causing anxiety and depression? Rather than looking at a symptom of your depression (unemployment), maybe we could look at a possible cause (a definition of disability that could be self-defeating). Disability is largely determined by what others consider to be disabling. Notice how laws generally put financial aspects in the definition. If at least some of the finances can be recovered without the need to work, then would you still consider yourself to be disabled? We are still left with the negative opinions of others. One thing that might help you deal with their opinions is your age. At 62, we often cannot do the things we could do 20 years ago. However, is it possible there are some things we have never done as well as we do right now? If the law of conservation is true, that energy can be neither be created nor destroyed, then the energy we used to have for “x” skills must now be transferred in to some new “y” skills that we perhaps are not yet aware and thus certainly are not yet fully developed. You may want to consider re-thinking your own definition of disability, look at the possibility of living on less money, and thinking more about employment in terms of self satisfaction rather than primarily a means of maintaining financial status which may come from more about what others think than what is best for you.

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