If you’re unable to work due to health problems, then you may qualify for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict guidelines on how it defines the word “disability.” The good news is that it’s possible to be approved for SSD benefits for certain mental conditions. First, try looking in the SSA’s Blue Book section that lists eligible mental conditions. You can also use the agency’s criteria as a checklist for gathering evidence to prove you’re disabled and cannot work.
What to Know About Applying for SSD With Mental Conditions
The claim examiner reviewing your application may not understand how mental conditions like yours affect your ability to work. In some cases, mental illness can make daily living tasks (i.e., getting dressed, showering or cooking meals) difficult to accomplish without help. But your symptoms aren’t the only thing the SSA looks at while reviewing your SSD claim. In order to qualify for disability benefits, you must meet all the following eligibility criteria:
- Cannot work at all for at least one year, specifically due to health problems
- Have current federal disability insurance coverage from working at least 5 in the last 10 years and paying FICA taxes
- Are at least 18, but younger than full retirement age on the date you apply for disability
- Do not currently receive some Social Security benefits (i.e., early retirement, survivor’s, spousal or widow’s benefits)
While it’s challenging, in general, to qualify for SSD benefits, people with mental conditions often have a harder time. Unlike a physical impairment where your limitations seem obvious, symptoms from mental disorders aren’t always visible to others. In fact, some people call health issues like these “invisible conditions.” In reality, listing every health problem you have on your disability claim increases your chances of approval. That’s because 62% of approved claims in recent years listed multiple health problems, including mental conditions.
Qualifying Mental Conditions for Disability Benefits
Not sure how the SSA evaluates mental conditions listed on disability claims? First, your claim examiner looks for your particular impairment’s listing in the SSA’s Blue Book. Anything listed there is officially considered a qualifying condition for Social Security disability by the SSA, which may improve your chances. Some mental conditions listed in the SSA’s Blue Book include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety-related mental conditions, such as PTSD and OCD
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Parkinson’s-related dementia
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
If the SSA Blue Book doesn’t list your issue under its acceptable medical conditions, don’t give up just yet. You may still qualify for SSD benefits! First, you’ll need to sit down with your doctor and fill out a mental residual functional capacity (RFC) form. The SSA will review your mental RFC form to determine if your intellectual, functional and/or social limitations prevent you from working full-time.
Strong Medical Evidence Is Key for Your Disability Claim’s Approval
Filing your disability application alone isn’t enough to get approved for benefits. You must also provide as much convincing medical evidence as possible that shows how mental conditions like yours limit your ability to function on a daily basis. Be sure to include all relevant medical records from the last 12 months, including:
- CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds and other imaging tests, if applicable
- Treatment notes from your therapist, counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist and/or neurologist
- Hospitalization and/or emergency room visit records, if applicable
- Bloodwork lab results, if applicable
- Notes from your therapy sessions, if applicable
- A printed list of every prescription and over-the-counter drug you take, including dosages, frequency and all side effects
To Increase Your Chances for Approval, Keep a Daily Symptom Diary to Submit With Your Claim
The SSA will also have you complete an “activities of daily living” form that’s similar to a symptom diary. In it, you’ll describe how your mental impairment affects your ability to manage your daily life. It will ask how well you handle various activities, including:
- Housework tasks (i.e., cleaning, doing the dishes, washing your clothes, etc.)
- Spending time with other people
- Managing your own money
- Getting around outside your home
- Shopping for household supplies and groceries
Your answers give the SSA some idea of how mental conditions like yours limit your ability to function on a daily basis. If you cannot complete some daily living tasks due to your mental illness, then you’re much more likely to get approved for benefits. Our best advice to you is, keep your answers short, direct and to the point. Don’t exaggerate your symptoms or downplay them, either. If possible, have your spouse, a trusted friend or family member review every form you fill out. Make sure you both agree everything’s complete, correct and lists all your current symptoms and limitations.
It’s also important to note that, in some cases, the SSA may refer you to a psychiatrist in your state for a complete consultative exam. This exam is simply to help confirm your diagnosis, symptoms, and limitations related to your mental condition. Answer every question, but don’t share any extra information about your life. You may think complaining or sharing stories about your struggles might help your approval chances. In reality, sharing too much is more likely to result in your denial.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
It’s quite difficult to qualify for SSD benefits based on mental conditions alone. However, filing your claim through a Social Security attorney nearly triples your chances of winning benefits the first time you apply. That’s because a lawyer understands exactly what the SSA looks for in mental illness claims, including how to get yours approved. In addition, an attorney will know exactly what medical evidence you’ll need from your doctor to prove you cannot work. Can’t afford to purchase copies of your medical records for the last 12 months? Your lawyer can pay for those, too.
You can sign up for a free, no-obligation consultation and get legal advice that applies to your specific situation. In fact, you can get your free legal advice over the phone without ever leaving your house. When a lawyer files your application, you’ll pay $0 for legal assistance until after your claim’s approved. Claim not approved? Then your lawyer gets paid $0 for helping you. And if you do win benefits, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
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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.