Winning Social Security Disability Benefits For Mental Disorders

It is difficult for anyone to win disability benefits, but especially for those who are filing for disability based on a mental disorder. Unfortunately, there still exists some discrimination in society against those who are mentally ill, and this attitude cannot help but be reflected by the psychologists and psychiatrists who evaluate people for the Social Security Administration. There are still quite a few mental health professionals who are unsupportive, perhaps even somewhat hostile, toward those seeking confirmation of a mental disorder to support a claim for disability.

In addition, those who are awarded disability due to a mental disorder are often at a disadvantage in that their condition was not immediately diagnosed. As a result of their struggle with mental illness, they may have a sketchy work history, if any. Social Security Disability (SSD) is awarded only to those who have paid into the system through FICA deductions from their paychecks. Many people with mental disorders haven't worked enough to qualify for Social Security Disability or SSI, or have worked such low-paying jobs in the past that they qualify for very little benefit under SSD.

Fortunately, in deciding who is awarded benefits, Social Security does not discriminate between physical and mental impairments. The litmus test for receiving disability benefits is the existence of a severe physical or mental condition, or combination of conditions, that prevent an applicant from earning the substantial gainful activity (SGA) limit each month. (The SGA amount is determined annually by Social Security.) In fact, the disability system is designed in such a way that younger people and others who have not worked much can collect more benefits than what they paid into the system.

As society has become more aware of the limitations imposed on individuals by mental illness, decisions within Social Security have mirrored this awareness. People with schizophrenia, manic depressive disorder, depression, etc., are no longer assumed to be easily curable with prescription medication. Since disability benefits are awarded only to those whose condition is expected to remain unchanged for at least twelve months, more and more people with mental disorders are no longer being denied based on the expectation that their condition will improve.

Though it may be more difficult for those with mental disorders to win full disability benefits than for those with obvious physical impairments, we can only hope that, as society learns more about the nature of mental illness and its limitations, this attitude will be reflected among the psychiatrists and psychologists who evaluate patients for Social Security.

Additional information:

How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition?
The Social Security Disability and SSI Process for Mental Claims based on Mental Disorders
Social Security Disability and SSI Mental Claims and Criteria

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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