March 9, 2016

Disability benefits for mental health conditions

It is possible to receive Social Security Disability benefits for a qualifying mental health condition.

Are you one of the millions of Americans suffering from a persistent mental health condition that significantly affects your life, including your ability to work? If so, you may be able to receive government disability benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplement Security Income (SSI) programs.

Not all mental health conditions qualify

There are several mental health conditions and disorders that can be serious enough to significantly impact an individual’s life and prevent him or her from gainful employment. Most of these impairments are listed in the “Blue Book” of impairments maintained by the Social Security Administration (SSA). If you have a condition not listed in the Blue Book, and you are unable to prove that you have a severe impairment that prevents you from maintaining substantial gainful employment, you might not be eligible for disability benefits.

To receive disability benefits, your condition must be expected to prevent you from working for at least 12 months or result in death. Even if your condition lasts longer than 12 months, if your symptoms can be managed with treatment such that you can work, you won’t be eligible for SSDI or SSI.

Common impairments

The list of mental health conditions and impairments listed in the Blue Book is extensive, and it includes many relatively well-known conditions, including but certainly not limited to:

  • Depression (must be severe and long-lasting – short-term or situational depression generally do not qualify)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Anxiety and panic disorders – these must be persistent, recurring and disruptive, and prevent the person from functioning in a work environment (not just occasional bouts of social anxiety when, for example, speaking in public). This can include chronic panic attacks that occur unpredictably even with treatment, irrational constant fear or worry, recurring compulsions or thoughts that consume the person, and persistent anxiety with physical symptoms like motor function disruption.
  • Intellectual disability (formerly known as “mental retardation”) – An individual may qualify for disability benefits through the SSA for an intellectual disability if the individual is dependent on others for basic functions such as grooming, bathing, using the restroom, eating and getting dressed; has an IQ score of 59 or less; or has an IQ score of 60-70 with concurrent mental or physical conditions that significantly impair the person’s ability to function in social settings or work environments or handle the necessities of daily living.
  • Autism and related “pervasive development disorders” (including ADHD and Asperger’s) that significantly limit the person’s ability to communicate, interact with others socially and engage in activities outside a select few preferred ones such that it is not possible to work.
  • Psychotic disorders like paranoia and schizophrenia

This list is not at all inclusive of the spectrum of mental health conditions that may allow a person to qualify for disability benefits. To learn more about seeking SSDI or SSI benefits for your own mental health condition or that of a loved one, speak with an experienced social security disability attorney like Robyn M. Rebers. You can email Ms. Rebers or call her office locally at 503-505-0506.