How to Apply for Disability with a Mental Health Condition

Applying for Social Security Disability benefits presents a daunting challenge at times. Not only must you prove that your disability precludes you from performing significant gainful work, and that your disability can reasonably be expected to last at least a year (or to end in your death). In most cases, you must make your case several times as your claim works its way through the appeals process.

If you’re applying for Social Security Disability benefits because of a mental health condition, the challenges are often even greater than those faced by claimants with physical disabilities. In many cases, a physical disability can be clearly diagnosed based on solid, objective evidence which is difficult to question. This is rarely the case with mental health conditions, which tend to have more subjective diagnoses.

How to Apply for Disability with a Mental Illness

The actual process of applying for Social Security Disability doesn’t vary significantly based on whether you are making a claim based on a physical or a mental disorder. You start by contacting the Social Security Administration and informing them of your intent to file a claim. An interview is set up, after which an examiner will look over the information you have provided and render a decision regarding your Social Security Disability claim. More than 2/3 of the time, initial claims are denied, leaving you with the option of dropping your case or appealing the decision.

Should you choose to go through the appeals process (and most people should), you would be well advised to seek a qualified Social Security Disability lawyer who can help you work through the complexities of the Social Security system. Claimants who are represented by a Social Security Disability lawyer are considerably more likely to have their claims approved. The difference is even more significant when dealing with cases of mental health conditions.

Be prepared to have your initial claim denied. In most cases, claims are denied at least twice before being approved at the hearing level by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). At your hearing (which you should attend with a legal representative), you will be able to make your case directly to the ALJ, who may also interview your doctors and psychiatrists before rendering his decision on your Social Security Disability case.

One of the reasons a Social Security Disability attorney can be helpful when making a claim based on mental health condition is that they are thoroughly familiar with the criteria SSA adjudicators are looking for. By communicating with your doctor, psychologist, and the other professionals who work with you, your Social Security Disability lawyer can help ensure that the SSA’s forms are filled out in such a way that is more likely to result in an accepted claim.

The exact requirements regarding which mental health conditions qualify for Social Security Disability are not always clear. While some mental health conditions such as schizophrenia are very likely to result in accepted claims, other mental health conditions; such as bipolar disorder and depression; often require a significant amount of evidence demonstrating that your condition has not improved enough to allow you to find gainful employment, even after receiving care.

It is very important that you follow the advice of your medical doctors, psychologists, and other professionals who are treating you for your mental health while you are applying for Social Security Disability benefits. Refusing to comply with appointments, medical treatments, or other prescribed activity or treatments can disqualify you for Social Security Disability benefits. Even if you are not disqualified for refusing to follow your doctors’ orders, you are likely to delay the approval of your claim.

How to Apply For Mental Health Disability Benefits

Mental health problems can be severe enough to make it impossible to keep working. This is when you need to apply to the Social Security Administration for Social Security disability benefits to help you survive financially while you’re unable to earn a living.

The process used to assess mental health Social Security disability (SSD) benefits applications is more or less the same as that for physical disabilities. However, it is important to note that it is often harder to obtain these benefits with mental health issues. This may be because the assessment of how much a mental health problem has an impact on your wellbeing may be more dependent on subjective analysis rather than based on physical evidence.

To apply for disability benefits with a significant mental health problem, you must collect whatever evidence you have of (1) the existence of your ill health, and (2) how it affects your ability to keep working. In addition, you will need evidence of your Social Security payments and work history either since you started working, or from the age of 22 anyway. Once you have accumulated this evidence, you will need to complete an application form for disability benefits and send it off to the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can also attend a local Social Security office to complete and send off your application in-person.

It is commonplace for mental health disability benefit applications to be rejected initially after assessment. If this happens to you, do not give up as there is an appeal process and many applications are eventually approved after an applicant perseveres with an appeal. It can help your application to get legal advice and help from a disability benefits lawyer at any stage of your application, but this is particularly helpful if you have to file an appeal.

Complete the Free Case Evaluation form on this page to get connected and speak with an independent, participating disability attorney who subscribes to our site and can help you get the disability benefits you need—at zero cost to you.

Additional Resources