Applying for Social Security Benefits(Some day, I'll write a longer and more thorough treatise on this. In the meantime....)
The bottom line with Social Security claims is history. Documented history is certainly preferable...any bipolar is probably going to have that, in either psychiatric time or jail-time or both.
There are two ways to go about it: 1) buy a book and read about the process first, (something I did because I'm weird like that) or 2) just simply walk into Social Security, tell them you want to apply for SSI or Disability and start filling out the paperwork. I would suggest, (for a thinking person,) a combination of the two.
The book is "Nolo's Guide to Social Security Disability," an immensely readable book about the nitty-gritty of applying for (and being on) Social Security. It will familiarize the patient with everything about Social Security (and is *quite* oftentimes a better source for information than even those who work for Social Security. It's that thorough.)
At that point, I would suggest the following: do not ask for the intervention services/help of any social agency to assist you, but simply DO walk into Social Security, tell them you want to apply, and begin the process. The hardest thing about an Disability/SSI application is tracking down the medical paperwork, and I spent months trying to do that on my own before realizing that SS actually has mechanisms in place to do that already, so you don't have to go it alone. In fact, I found my local SS office folk to be better informed and just nicer people than I had expected them to be. So my Rx on this is:
1) Order Nolo's book on Amazon.
2) While waiting for the book to arrive, go down to your nearest Social Security office and tell them you want to apply for benefits. (Point of information - SSI is people who have worked in the system (legit) for less than 20 quarters (aka five years) but not necessarily consecutively.) Many Many Many mentally ill people simply do not have the work history that will justify five years work history, (at 34, I did not) and thus will be applying for SSI rather Disability, which is why people tend to associate SSI as "welfare for crazy people."