Social Security Disability For Mental Disorders

Recently, someone asked in a disability forum if an individual can receive Social Security Disability for Mental disorders. Another individual in the forum responded and said:

'I work with this population, so first of all...they do not get very much money unless they have worked a long work history. Secondly, they are truly impaired and cannot work. Thirdly, a psychiatrist has to deem them unable to work and psychiatrists are not liberal in handing out disability determinations to people."

I would agree with this individual's response to the question. However, regarding the statement "they do not get very much money unless they have worked a long work history", I should mention the following.

Social Security Disability benefit amounts are geared so that individuals who are younger and/or have worked less (and also those who have worked for a shorter time) might receive a higher benefit than other individuals who have plugged along at jobs that did not pay much for years.

It really depends on when an individual's mental disorder began to prevent them from working. Some individuals never get started and thus they never become insured for Social Security Disability. Or, they earned just enough to be insured but had small earnings amounts (individuals earn their Social Security Disability insured status through their work earnings). In these cases, it is true that an individual will receive small disability benefit payments.

Secondly, it is clearly evident that individuals who suffer from mental disorders are just as impaired as individuals who suffer from physical impairments. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration handles this in a practical manner as it considers any mental or physical impairment to be severe if it simply prevents an individual from working at what it considers to be a substantial and gainful activity level.

Finally, it is absolutely true that many disability agency psychiatrists and psychologists (a disability determination services mental consultant can be either a Ph.D psychologist or a M.D. psychiatrist) do not support disability approvals in any liberal sense. And some, honestly, are adversarial toward claimants (I am reminded of a psychologist who was attached to one of my case processing units who, quite frankly, should have been fired for the opinions she put on cases).

Although, I would say that Social Security has gotten somewhat more realistic when making disability determinations based upon mental disorders.

For instance, there is currently a trend of fewer durational denials (Social Security gives durational denials for conditions that they feel will become non-debilitating within twelve months or less) for mental conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and more disability benefit approvals based upon anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental conditions.

Hopefully, this particular trend will continue so that individuals with mental conditions can receive the same consideration as those with physically disabling conditions, not just within the confines of Social Security Disability but within society in general.

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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