Schizoaffective Disorder and Social Security Disability

As a mental illness that causes mood disturbances, breaks from reality, and cyclical periods of mania and depression, schizoaffective disorder often makes it impossible to maintain employment. Even with proper treatment, you may still experience psychotic episodes or suffer from manic-depressive symptoms. These are only a few of the issues that can make maintaining a job difficult as an individual with schizoaffective disorder.

Even when the condition is relatively well controlled with medications and other therapies, you may suffer from sleep disturbances, cognitive issues, and concentration problems. You may have difficulty communicating with others or problems interacting socially, and the list goes on.

The good news is that schizoaffective disorder can qualify you for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, which can help you pay for your everyday living expenses.

Medically Qualifying with Schizoaffective Disorder

To receive disability benefits, you must either:

  • meet or closely match a listing in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book
  • OR

  • show through a residual functional capacity (RFC) analysis that you’re so limited by your medical condition that you’re unable to hold a job and earn a living.

Although there is no listing in the Blue Book for schizoaffective disorder, you can still qualify by closely matching either the listing for schizophrenia (Section 12.03) or the listing for affective disorders (Section 12.04). The SSA may review both while making a decision on your application.

The Schizophrenia listing in Section 12.03 requires you experience at least one of the following:

  • delusions or hallucinations
  • illogical thinking or speech
  • emotional isolation

You must additionally suffer from at least two of the following:

  • restricted ability to function on your own or without support or intervention, including limitations in your everyday activities
  • difficulty in maintaining relationships or functioning socially
  • problems completing tasks in a timely manner or remaining focused
  • repeated episodes of decompensation, which are times when your symptoms become more pronounced

You can also match this listing if you’ve:

  • suffered from psychosis for two years or longer
  • are under the care of a qualified physician
  • are still unable to work
  • AND

  • experience at least one of the following:
    • repeated episodes of decompensation
    • pronounced symptoms or episodes of decompensation when you change environments or step outside of your comfort zone or familiar routines
    • cannot function outside of a highly structured living situation

If you do not match the schizophrenia listing, you may qualify for SSD under the listing for affective disorder instead, which requires:

  • You experience periods of prolonged depression during which you suffer from at least four of the following symptoms:
    • Appetite changes which affect your weight
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Significantly decreased energy levels
    • Trouble concentrating
    • Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
    • Hallucinations, paranoid thoughts, and/or delusions


  • You experience prolonged or pronounced periods of mania, including at least four of the following symptoms:
    • Hyperactivity
    • Rapid speech patterns
    • Concentration issues
    • Sleep disruptions
    • Paranoid thoughts, delusions, and/or hallucinations

Most people with schizoaffective disorder are able to meet or match one of these listings. If your medical records and other documentation do not satisfy these requirements, you may still be able to receive benefits, if your RFC shows severe impairment.

An RFC analysis is the final step in the first review of a disability claim. To complete this step, the SSA will look at all of your medical conditions and their affects on your everyday abilities or “activities of daily living.”

Your psychiatrist is crucial in this review as he or she will provide critical details about your symptoms, their frequency and duration, and how profoundly you’re affected by them. You must therefore work closely with your treating physician to ensure the SSA has the information they need to make a decision on your claim.

Getting Help with Your Claim

In addition to involving your physician in your pursuit of disability benefits, you may also wish to seek the help of legal counsel or a Social Security advocate. He or she can assist you in organizing your application, completing your forms, collecting the appropriate evidence, and filing your documentation on time. If the SSA initially finds you not qualified for benefits, an attorney or advocate can also help you file an appeal so you can continue trying to get the benefits you need.