Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?

Yes, you can qualify for disability (either Social Security Disability or SSI disability, or both if your claim is concurrent) on the basis of a mental illness. The key to being awarded benefits on the basis of a mental illness is simply providing medical record documentation that proves an inability to engage in what the social security administration refers to as substantial gainful activity or SGA. This simply means working and earning at least a certain amount, and this amount is subject to change each year.

Translation: you can work and still potentially be approved for disability benefits as long as your earnings do not exceed a certain limit. The reason social security (and SSI) works this way is because the federal government acknowledges that even individuals with disabling conditions may be able to engage in limited work activity.

What do medical records need to say about your mental condition?

Ideally, they should provide some level of detail regarding a disability claimant's ability to engage in normal daily activities. An inability to engage in normal daily activities, or a reduced ability to persist in them, may be indicative of a claimant's inability to engage in work activity.

For more on this topic: How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition?

What kind of mental conditions will qualify for disability under SSD or SSI?

The social security administration receives disability applications for practically every type of impairment known to exist. Mental impairments, conditions, or problems, are divided into two camps: those that are psychiatric and those that are psychological.

Psychological problems are those for which there may be an organic cause and for which psychological testing--such as IQ testing and memory scales--is often used to gauge the extent of the condition, such as autism, mental retardation, alzheimer's disease, borderline intellectual functioning, traumatic brain injury, and long and short term memory loss.

Psychiatric conditions include those problems that most people with think of in unison with counseling and medication such as: anxiety related disorders, affective disorders (depression and bipolar disorder), personality disorders, and schizophrenia, paranoid, and other psychotic disorders.

For more on this topic, What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

Other questions:

1. When you file for disability with Mental and Physical Conditions.

2. The disability process for Mental Claims based on Mental Disorders.

3. Can You Get approved for disability if you have a mental condition but do not take medication?

Of course, if an individual demonstrates that they can work and earn more than the SGA limit, the social security administration will eventually have no choice but to conclude that the individual is not disabled, or, if they have been receiving benefits, is no longer disabled.

Also, and this is important to keep in mind: individuals who are filing on the basis of a mental illness should be particularly careful with regard to work activity. The ability to engage in work activity that is even below the allowable limit can sometimes sway the perceptions of a disability claim decision-maker...such as a disability examiner when a case comes up for review.

Note: all cases that have been approved eventually come up for review; for this reason, those who have been approved on the basis of a mental illness should carefully consider their circumstances before they engage in work.

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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