Mental Illness and Social Security Disability: Do You Have a Claim?

Written by John Horn. Posted in Social Security Disability

When you think about disability claims, you may first picture a scenario where you can no longer work due to an injury or chronic physical issue. While many disability claims focus on physical conditions, social security examiners do accept certain mental illnesses, disorders, and conditions as disabling.

As with a claim of disability based on a physical injury or other impairment, your benefits in a mental impairment claim depend on providing evidence that your mental health situation directly inhibits your employment capabilities.

In this blog, we cover how the process differs if you have a mental impairment that is officially recognized from a non-recognized condition as well as the evidence you must provide in a mental impairment claim.

Official Types of Mental Impairment

Social security claims start with an evaluation from an official examiner. The examiner refers to official Social Security Administration (SSA) impairment listings, sometimes simply called “the blue book.” Conditions found in the blue book are considered inherently disabling, meaning that the SSA recognizes that these conditions would prevent an individual from working.

The blue book recognized mental impairments include:

  • Affective disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Mental retardation
  • Schizophrenia
  • Somatoform symptom disorders (SSD)

Just because your diagnosed mental condition appears in the blue book does not guarantee that your claim will be granted. The examiner will also assess whether your symptoms match the requirements laid out in the blue book, how your symptoms impact your daily life, and whether your symptoms are expected to go away over time.

Because SSA examiners are not mental health professionals, they rely on clinical notes from your mental health care providers and answers to questionnaires given to you and the people you interact with on a regular basis.

Other Types of Mental Impairment

Even if your mental health issue is not an official mental impairment listing or doesn’t meet blue book requirements, you may still have a claim. If you have a mental health condition diagnosis that impacts your ability to complete work tasks, the examiner may consider how this condition impacts your life and how it is expected to develop over time.

Daily Life Impact

In these cases, the examiner considers your mental residual functional capacity (RFC). When assessing RFC, the examiner looks at the types of work tasks you can perform in spite of your condition and any treatment you currently receive.

The examiner will determine if you have any significant limitations in intellectual, social, or functional tasks due to your condition. In each of these categories, the examiner considers specific skills and determines whether you are markedly limited, moderately limited, or not significantly limited.

If the examiner does not have enough information to evaluate your limitations in a specific category, he or she will report that there is inadequate evidence to determine your limitations in that area.

If the examiner finds that you qualify as markedly limited in multiple areas that would make it difficult for you to perform any type of work, you may qualify for benefits. In these situations, your benefits would take the form of a medical-vocational allowance rather than a disability claim.

Long-Term Condition Development

When working with conditions that are not in the blue book, examiners also consider how the impairment is expected to progress over time. For example, if your mental illness is expected to improve quickly with regular therapy and the correct medication regimen, you are unlikely to receive disability benefits.

If, however, you can provide evidence that indicates that your impairment could last for 12 months or longer, you may still be eligible for benefits.

Mental Impairment Disability Claims

In any mental impairment disability claim, it is essential to provide the information and evidence necessary to prove that your condition diminishes or eliminates your employment capabilities. Examiners are wary of applicants who may be faking their illness to receive benefits.

In cases where testing can provide concrete evidence of the severity your condition, you can and should undergo testing. For example, an IQ test can indicate the extent of an applicant’s intellectual disability, while a memory impairment test can reveal the level of memory loss an applicant experiences and how that loss could affect daily activities.

You will need to provide records from your mental health care providers detailing how your condition affects you as well as relevant pharmacy and hospitalization documentation. If you do not have adequate records for the SSA to determine your eligibility, the examiner may order a psychological evaluation.

Mental impairment disability claims are some of the most difficult to prosecute. As you begin the process of filing forĀ social security disability, consult with the experts at Horn & Kelley, PC Attorneys at Law. The right legal representation can expedite the application process and improve your chances of receiving the benefits that you need.


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