What to Know About Mental Conditions and Social Security Disability

consultative exam

When an individual has been or becomes disabled, they may be eligible to receive Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict guidelines on what it will approve for disability. In order to have your SSD application approved you must be:

  • Disabled for at least one year
  • Unable to hold a job that provides you with gainful employment

While it’s challenging, in general, to be approved for SSD benefits, those applying for a mental condition have an even harder time. Unlike a physical illness where the symptoms and limitations of the affliction may be readily evident, mental disorders are all internal, so there’s not always outwardly obvious that someone is disabled. These are often considered “invisible conditions”, which are harder to prove.

The good news is that it’s possible to be approved for SSD benefits with a mental condition, especially if it’s listed in the SSA’s Blue Book and has certain criteria that need to be met. In these cases, you can use the guidelines as a checklist for gathering evidence to prove you are, in fact, disabled as per the SSA’s definition.

What to Know About Applying for SSD With a Mental Condition

SSD claim examiners reviewing your application may not always understand the depths of mental illnesses or the scope of limitations these conditions create. If a person is not outwardly displaying symptoms of their condition at the time they apply, the examiner may determine that they are “cured,” because they don’t realize that many mental illnesses are cyclical in nature.

There are also still stigmas associated with mental illnesses and some examiners may unknowingly discriminate against people suffering from one of these conditions.

In order to evaluate a mental condition as a disability or not, the examiner will first look to see if it’s listed in the Blue Book and what criteria need to be met in order to approve SSD. Conditions listed are officially considered qualifying conditions for Social Security disability by the SSA, so that may improve chances. These are some of the mental conditions listed in the Blue Book:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety-related illnesses like PTSD and OCD
  • Mental retardation/intellectual disability
  • Autistic disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Depression
  • Alzheimer’s

If your condition is not listed, the examiner may require you to complete a mental residual functional capacity (RFC) form to determine if your intellectual, functional and/or social limitations prevent you from working full time.

It’s also imperative to provide as much credible evidence as possible speaking to the severity of your mental condition. This includes records from therapists, counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists, hospitalization records, pharmacy records, and emergency room visit records. It may also be useful to provide the results of any testing you’ve had done, including CT scans, MRIs, and blood work as well as notes from therapy sessions and treatment trials.

The SSA will also have you complete activities of daily living form to describe how your mental condition affects your ability to function in your daily life. You’ll be asked about a variety of activities including completing housework, spending time with other people, using money, getting around outside of your home and shopping.

It’s important to note that, in some cases, the SSA may refer you to a psychiatrist for a complete consultative exam.

Get Free Legal Assistance

Because getting approved for Social Security disability benefits with a mental condition can be quite complicated and involved, you may find it helpful to hire an experienced advocate or attorney who can help you understand the process and what is required of you. A legal professional will have a better grasp on what the SSA needs in order to grant approval, so they can offer advice on the best steps to take, what to provide the Social Security Administration and what you should and should not say on your application.

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