How Severe Does My Mental Illness Have to be to Get Disability?

If you’re struggling with a mental illness and you can’t work, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration recognizes more than 200 medical physical and mental health conditions as being disabilities, and awards disability benefits to people who have severe medical conditions and cannot work. If you have a mental illness that makes it difficult or impossible for you to work, but you have worked before, you can apply for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits.

Blue Book Listing For Mental Illnesses

The Social Security Administration (SSA) lists all of the conditions that qualify for disability benefits in the Blue Book, including mental illnesses. When you apply for disability benefits, you will need to show that you have a mental illness that is listed in the Blue Book and that you meet the specific requirements set by the SSA in that listing.

Proving Your Mental Health Condition Is Severe Enough for SSD

Each listing in the Blue Book has a unique set of requirements that you must meet. For example, in order to meet the Blue Book listing for depression you would need to submit medical evidence showing that you have at least five of these symptoms:

  • depressed mood
  • decreased energy
  • difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • loss of interest in most activities
  • a slowing of physical movement or speech, or increased physical agitation, like pacing
  • poor appetite or overeating with weight gain or loss
  • insomnia or oversleeping
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or
  • suicidal thoughts.

And, in addition to that, you would have to demonstrate that you have an extreme limitation in at least one of these areas or a severe limitation in at least two of these areas:

  • understanding and remembering instructions and learning new things
  • interacting with others appropriately
  • concentrating and completing tasks, or
  • managing yourself (being able to cook, pay bills, and shop, handling change, and practicing good hygiene).

To prove that you meet these requirements, you can submit medical imaging like MRIs or PET scans, doctor’s treatment notes, a letter of diagnosis, a Residual Functional Capacity form (RFC assessment) documenting your limitations, a psychological assessment, even notes from teachers, old employers, or family and friends who can comment on how your symptoms impact your ability to work.

Applying for Disability Benefits

When you apply for disability benefits, it is very important to have as much medical documentation as possible in addition to understanding what the SSA is looking for. Approximately 2/3 of all initial applications for disability benefits are denied either based on technical problems with the application, disqualification based on medical information, or not demonstrating that your illness is so severe that you can’t work. Working with an attorney that specializes in disability cases can help you understand what you need to have in your application to boost your chances of getting approved on the first try.

Get Help With Your Disability Claim

Whether you’re filing an initial claim for disability benefits or appealing a current application talking to a disability lawyer will help you refine your application and may help you get approved for disability benefits faster. Fill out the Free Case Evaluation form on this page to get connected and speak with a disability attorney today—at zero cost to you.

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