Obtaining Social Security disability benefits for a mental illness can be a challenging process. Individuals who cannot work because of a condition such as depression or anxiety must meet specific criteria set by the Social Security Administration.
Understanding the eligibility criteria can help you determine whether you or a loved one can qualify.
SSA definition of disability
An individual must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a severe mental impairment. The healthcare provider must certify that the condition will likely last for at least 12 months. The SSA is looking for evidence that mental illness is a long-term and ongoing issue. It must affect an individual’s ability to work consistently.
Listing of Impairments
The SSA maintains a Listing of Impairments. This document outlines benefits-eligible mental health conditions. Examples include:
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Intellectual disorders
To qualify for Social Security Disability, an individual’s mental illness must meet the criteria in this document.
Severity of the mental illness
To be eligible for benefits, the mental illness must be severe enough to prevent them from performing basic work activities. The application must demonstrate significant limitations in understanding, remembering and applying information, interacting with others and adapting to or managing oneself in a work environment.
Consistency of treatment
The SSA evaluates consistency of treatment for the mental illness. Seeking help from healthcare providers and following their recommendations shows commitment to managing a severe condition.
Residual functional capacity assessment
The SSA will assess an individual’s residual functional capacity. This test determines the activities they can still perform despite their mental impairment. The RFC assessment must show that a person cannot perform substantial gainful work activity for eligibility.
The SSA will consider an individual’s work history when evaluating a disability claim. You must have enough work credits over the year to receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Income.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20% of SSDI recipients have a psychiatric rather than physical disability. Strong supporting medical evidence can increase chances of benefits eligibility.