Do I Qualify for Social Security Disability if I Have Been Diagnosed with a Mental Illness?

If your work life or career has been cut short due to the debilitating effects of mental illness, you may qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. It is estimated by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that mental illness directly affects more than 20% of adult Americans at some point in their lives. Mental illness is defined as:

Diagnosable mental disorders or health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behavior and are associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.

Qualifying conditions

The Social Security Administration defines a person’s disability in terms of their ability to work. If you have not been able to work for a year or more due to your mental illness, you may qualify for benefits. Disability examiners will determine your eligibility based on your application, clinical evidence and examinations.

Depression is the most common type of mental illness, and it can be very serious. It is projected that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability in the world. Other qualifying mental disabilities include conditions such as:

  • Anxiety disorders (anxiety, panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Eating disorders
  • Disorientation
  • Memory problems
  • Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia or paranoia

When you apply, keep this in mind

SSD benefits are available to people who are unable to work but have worked in the past and paid into the Social Security trust fund. The answers you provide on your application about your inability to work will be a key factor in determining SSD eligibility, so be as specific as possible about the issues you experience when trying to work. Examples include difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and disorientation. The examiners at the Social Security Administration also rely on clinical records such as your doctor’s notes, prescription medications, examination reports and other clinical indicators.

Regardless of your precise eligibility, much is left to the interpretation of the eligibility evaluators. It is not uncommon for applications to be rejected the first time. If that is the case, hire a Social Security Disability attorney to represent you in your appeal.

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