Important: We updated this article in April 2023 to make sure all info below is both current and correct. When you apply for Social Security disability (SSD) for mental health reasons, it may make the process more difficult. That’s because “invisible conditions” don’t have visible physical symptoms to others. Unlike someone who’s blind or lost a limb, others can’t see the symptoms of living with mental health issues. Therefore, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires strong evidence that a person does, in fact, have them. Plus, that person must have mental health issues that make working 40 hours each week hard to impossible. And that must still hold true even while under a doctor’s care or taking medication exactly as directed. This is why meeting the SSA’s Mental Residual Functional Capacity form criteria is key to getting monthly SSD payments.
Conditions That Frequently Meet Disability Claim Requirements
In order to get SSD benefits, you must prove your issues will last for at least one year or result in death. And you must also show your symptoms prevent you from working any job for enough hours to support yourself.
Common mental health conditions for which the SSA awards SSD payments:
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
If you have a condition on the SSA’s Compassionate Allowances List (CAL), then the agency automatically says it counts as a disability. However, if your issue isn’t on the CAL list, you must still give the SSA solid medical evidence. Want the best piece of proof you can submit for your claim? Complete a mental residual functional capacity (RFC) form. (You can grab a blank version of the mental RFC form here.)
What is a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Form?
Your mental residual functional capacity form documents what sort of work activities you can currently do. It lists which tasks can complete regularly, despite your mental health treatments (i.e., medication or therapy sessions). The SSA reviews your mental residual functional capacity to determine whether you can perform current or former job tasks. If not, they move on to see whether you can do any other, similar kind of work.
In determining your mental residual functional capacity, the SSA looks at both medical and non-medical evidence. For medical issues, the agency reviews your:
- Medical records that mention your mental health issue treatments for the past 12 months.
- Relevant test results (blood labs, psychological exams, MRIs, etc.).
- Other health issues your doctor treats that may play a role in making you unable to work.
- Current treatments, responses, symptoms, and outlook based on notes from your doctor.
In addition, the SSA reads letters from people who know you and your condition well. This includes written statements on how your mental health affects your daily life. They also confirm you have enough recent work credits to qualify for SSD benefits.
Pro Tip: Keep a daily symptom diary for 4-8 weeks before you file your claim, if possible. This shows how your mental health issues limit your ability to perform basic daily living tasks. Not every day is a “bad” day, but note when things like cooking, running errands, bathing or getting dressed are too hard for you.
What Does the SSA Look for On Your Mental Residual Functional Capacity Form?
The mental residual functional capacity assessment helps the SSA determine if you are able to:
- Complete tasks on a schedule
- Understand, remember, and follow instructions
- Concentrate and pay attention for long periods of time (i.e., an 8-hour workday)
- Make simple judgment calls and decisions
- Interact in an appropriate way with others
- Show up to your job on time for every shift
- Tolerate normal amounts of stress
- Keep up a regular routine without someone watching you
- Get along with other employees without becoming a distraction
- Respond well and adapt to work setting changes as needed
- Stay clean and neat
- Accept feedback appropriately
How Your Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment Impacts Your SSD Claim Review
After looking over your mental residual functional capacity form, the SSA will declare you one of the following:
- Not significantly limited.
- Moderately limited.
- Markedly limited.
- That there is not enough evidence to make a decision on your application for benefits.
You may qualify for SSD benefits if you’re markedly limited in certain areas. That would be because you cannot perform even simple job tasks that require little to no skill. If the SSA finds you moderately limited, the agency will look for any simple jobs you can do. This remains true even if it’s something you haven’t done before during your job history. If you can do one of these jobs in your current mental state, then the SSA may deny your SSD claim.
The SSA may also include episodes of decompensation. Decompensation is what they call times when your symptoms get worse and you need more treatment, or to be in a less stressful situation. The SSA will see how many times this happens to you and how long your episodes last.
Get Expert Claim Help Free of Charge
Since getting SSD benefits for a mental condition can be hard, you might benefit from speaking to a Social Security attorney for free. An experienced professional can give you the best advice on how to apply for Social Security disability benefits.
What’s more, having a lawyer file your paperwork nearly triples your chances for getting benefits. If the SSA doesn’t award you SSD, then you owe your lawyer $0. But if you do get benefits, then you only pay one small fee after your claim is successful.
Want free expert claim help without leaving your home? Click the button below now to sign up for a free phone call during normal business hours:
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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.