On June 8, 2015, The Atlantic posted an article by Matt Ford titled, “America’s Largest Mental Hospital is a Jail.” As someone who is bipolar, this article shook me to my core. I’m one of the lucky ones.I didn’t end up in jail. However, I could have. At one point, I was so manic I walked down a busy road naked. I could have been arrested for indecent exposure! Instead, I ended up in a psychiatric ward. The aim of this article isn’t to relive the shames and horrors of my past manic episodes. Rather, I hope to illustrate how someone with advantages in life manages being bipolar in the “system.”
By advantages, I mean I have a supportive family and master’s degree. While I am literate enough to navigate Social Security and the Department of Health and Human Services paperwork with some ease, it took a long time and a good lawyer for me to eventually receive Social Security benefits. Having a supportive family allowed me the opportunity to not work when I was too sick. Sadly, most people are not afforded that option.
I don’t want to mislead my readers into thinking that just because I have the advantages of a supportive family and education that being bipolar is easy for me. I am writing this article anonymously, because of the stigma associated with my sickness. I see the memes and jokes about bipolar people online. It hurts. I’m not ready to come out publicly as being bipolar. I also don’t want to mislead my readers into thinking getting Social Security was easy for me. It was not. I, like many, was denied the first time I applied for disability. I got a lawyer to help me after that. I did a lot of digging to find all of the relevant medical records needed for my case. The process took over a year. While waiting for my case to come to trial, I had a place to stay and food to eat. Again, not everyone has that advantage.
If you are mentally ill to the point where you are no longer able to work, please know that there is hope.
Like me, you may need to get a lawyer to help you in court. I would like to share some resources that can help throughout this process.
You will need to be detail-oriented and on time when filling out any paperwork. Genesee County residents can visit Social Security at 1149 Robert T. Longway Blvd., Flint MI 48503. I recommend getting there early, as lines are often long.
You can also visit www.ssa.gov/ to apply for disability. However, before doing that, be sure your doctor agrees you are unable to work because of your disability. You’ll need lots of help from your doctor with paperwork.
While you are waiting for a judgment on your disability, finances may be tight. You can apply for a Bridge Card to get food and/or cash assistance.
Visit www.michigan.gov/mdhhs to fill out an application, or visit in person at 125 E. Union St., Flint, MI 48501. You can also get Medicaid through these resources. In addition to the Bridge Card, I have found the Muslim Food Panty to be helpful in times of need.
Visit www.amcsusa.org/ for more information on dates and locations of food giveaways.
For those of you with student loans, there is hope. Once you have gone through the disability process, you can apply to have your loans forgiven. Visit www.nelnet.com/welcome or call 888.486.4722. This process also takes a while, requires detailed paperwork and a doctor’s approval.
Being mentally disabled isn’t easy, nor is the disability process. However, I hope my experience will help readers navigate the system. I also hope we find a way to keep the mentally ill out of jail and in doctors’ offices.