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SSDRC authored by Tim Moore
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Applying for disability with Depression
Basic requirements for disability claims
If you are applying for Social Security disability or SSI benefits based upon depression, there are things you need to understand about the disability evaluation process. Both SSI and SSD are processed in an identical fashion with regard to the definition of disability and how claims are evaluated. In fact, because there is no difference in the requirements for SSI and SSDI, cases are very often processed with a concurrent claim in both categories, SSI and SSD.
The first requirement of Social Security disability: Your condition must have prevented the performance of SGA level work activity for 12 months or be expected to prevent SGA for 12 months, or be expected to end in death. The performance of SGA will cause your disability claim to be denied before it is sent for a medical decision even if your condition is terminal. There is no way around this rule.
The second requirement of Social Security disability: You must have a severe medically verifiable mental or physical condition. The severity must be established through acceptable medical sources. Social Security considers acceptable medical sources to be psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, and other medical professionals.
Depression is evaluated under the criteria of listing 12.04 Affective Disorders.
Social Security must establish the existence and severity of your depression. They do this by evaluating “objective” medical evidence.
This evidence might consist of treatment notes that contain information about your symptoms (your own description of your illness) and signs (observed or observable occurrences that indicate psychological abnormalities in the areas of behavior, mood, thought, memory, perception, or orientation) described by your treating medical professional.
Severity is determined by evaluating the functional limitations your depression imposes on your daily activities (shopping, cooking, paying bills, etc.), social functioning (interactions with family, friend, or employers), and concentration, persistence, or pace (ability to stay focused, complete tasks commonly found in work settings).
Impairment listing 12.04 criteria may be satisfied by the following methods.
Method 1- If your depression causes you to have documented thoughts of suicide, or sleep disturbance, or decreased energy, or feeling of guilt or worthlessness, or difficulty thinking or concentrating, or weight gain or loss, or pervasive loss of interest in almost all activities, or psychomotor agitation or retardation and, one of these causes you to have two of the following: severe restriction of daily living activities, or marked difficulties maintaining social functioning, or significant problems maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of extended periods of decompensation.
Method 2- You have a medically documented history of chronic depression that has been at least two years in duration and has caused you to have more than a minimal limitation in the ability to perform work activities. You must have symptoms or signs lessened by medication or psychological support.
To meet the criteria of this method, you must also have one of the following: repeated decompensations of extended duration; a residual disease process that causes such a marginal adjustment that even a small increase in mental demands or change in environment would cause you to compensate, or you have a current mental health history of 1 or more years that shows you have an inability to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement, with an indication of continued need for the this arrangement.
If you are severely depressed and you have been unable to perform substantial work activity you should consider filing for Social Security and/or Supplemental Security disability.
More about the condition
Depression, also referred to as unipolar depression, clinical depression, major depressive disorder and major depression, is a mental disorder that is most commonly known by sadness, grief, irritability, low mood and a loss of interest in normal activities. It is usually first experienced in early to mid adulthood and a diagnosis is made upon the patient’s reported experiences. Children may have depression as well, though it is oftentimes more challenging to diagnose than adults. There are no laboratory tests for depression, though sometimes a physician may run clinical tests for other conditions before making a diagnosis. A psychological evaluation usually follows a medical check-up. There are many diagnostic tools, such as surveys and questionnaires that help with the diagnosis of depression.
Depression can be a once in a lifetime event or reoccur throughout one’s life. The duration of depression can last for a short time, weeks or months, or be a present for a lifetime. Symptoms can include body aches, crying spells, low energy, low libido and a change in sleeping patterns, eating habits and weight. Those with depression may experience anxiousness, inappropriate guilt, difficulty thinking, pessimism, and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. They may feel sluggish and find themselves experiencing headaches and chronic pain. They may also withdrawal from social situations and in extreme cases have thoughts of death or suicide or attempt suicide. Usually these symptoms, with the exception of thoughts of suicide or a suicidal attempt, need to be present for at least two weeks before a diagnosis can be made.
Depression is oftentimes paired with other mental conditions, such as anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder. There are also different ratings of depression – from mild and moderate to severe, and different types and subtypes. Melancholic depression, postpartum depression and psychotic depression are just a couple.
The cause of depression is generally unknown, although there are many theories and risk factors that have been debated. Some of these factors are biological and some are psychological. The psychological factors are related around how a person developed as a child and how they handle environmental factors like stress. Many doctors feel that events can aid depression, such as abandonment, death, rejection, sexual abuse, work-related stress, trauma and a host of other stressful experiences. Biologically it is thought that depression can be genetic. It has been estimated that 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men experience depression because of genetics. It is also thought that serotonin and norepinephrine (the neurotransmitters that antidepressants effect) are less in those with depression, though it has not been scientifically proven. There are many other biological theories.
Today depression is regarded as a serious condition that can be disabling, though that was not always the case. Treatment includes psychotherapy, antidepressants and in severe cases when other treatments have not worked, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), also known as electroshock. ECT is a treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in anesthetized patients for therapeutic effect.
Return to: Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions
Related Body System Impairments:
Medical Documentation when you apply for disability with depression
Can I Qualify For Disability and Receive Benefits based on Depression?
Should I List My Past Depression Medications on My Social Security Disability or SSI Application?
How do you apply for disability if you have depression?
Is it hard to qualify for Social Security benefits if you have depression?
Can disability be awarded for depression for a time until I am fully recovered?
Depression, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits
Dysthymia and Filing for Disability
Major Depressive Disorder (Depression) and Filing for Disability
Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:
Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI
These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Qualifying for SSI, SSD, SSDI disability benefits