How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay

Schizophrenia, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits

Can you be approved for Social Security Disability or SSI if you have a mental illness?

Yes. However, disability claims based on mental impairments seem to be treated by the social security administration even more arbitrarily than claims that are based solely on physical impairments.

If you file an application for disability on the basis of one or more mental impairments, prepare for the strong probability of being denied at the initial claim level, and prepare for the likelihood of having to file appeals. However, on the bright side, it should be noted that a large percentage of claims that are brought before administrative law judges at disability hearings are approved, and this is particularly true for represented claimants. The downside to this fact, however, is the fact that the appeals process leading to a hearing can take 1-2 years.

The difficulty of winning disability for Mental Illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression)

As a disability examiner for Social Security Disability and SSI disability cases, I was often amazed at the cases that were denied. For example, I've seen individuals with IQs in the fifties get denied and I've seen individuals with long and well documented histories of decompensation get denied. I've also seen fairly severe cases of bipolar disorder get denied on the basis of duration (a durational denial is a denial made on the basis of an assumption that a condition will not last the required twelve months needed to satisfy the social security administration's definition of disability), which is quite ridiculous when one considers the waxing and waning nature of bipolar disorder, and a number of other conditions as well.

Even well-documented and legitimate mental illness cases get denied by social security. However, that depressing fact only makes it more imperative that disability claimants who file on the basis of a mental impairment provide substantial documentation in the form of medical records.

Unfortunately, in our society at present, getting access to needed mental health treatment can be difficult. According to the National Mental Health Council, there are approximately three and a half million Americans who suffer from brain disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. And forty percent of these individuals receive no treatment. In many instances, the lack of treatment may be due to an individual never having sought treatment. However, there are too many cases in which those who seek treatment find no avenue by which to continue receiving treatment. For instance, those who become disabled and have long term disability insurance often find that their LTD "coverage" for mental health treatment caps out at the two-year mark.

The schizophrenia listing

Schizophrenia is listed in SSA's disability listings. This means that a person filing for disability can potentially be approved for disability via a medical vocational allowance, a process by which it is shown that they cannot work and earn a substantial and gainful income, or by meeting the requirements, via their medical record documentation, of the listing. Here is the listing that addresses schizophrenia:

12.03 Schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders: Characterized by the onset of psychotic features with deterioration from a previous level of functioning.

The required level of severity for these disorders is met when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied, or when the requirements in C are satisfied.

A. Medically documented persistence, either continuous or intermittent, of one or more of the following:

1. Delusions or hallucinations; or

2. Catatonic or other grossly disorganized behavior; or

3. Incoherence, loosening of associations, illogical thinking, or poverty of content of speech if associated with one of the following:

a. Blunt affect; or

b. Flat affect; or

c. Inappropriate affect; or

4. Emotional withdrawal and/or isolation;


B. Resulting in at least two of the following:

1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or

2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or

3. Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or

4. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration;


C. Medically documented history of a chronic schizophrenic, paranoid, or other psychotic disorder of at least 2 years' duration that has caused more than a minimal limitation of ability to do basic work activities, with symptoms or signs currently attenuated by medication or psychosocial support, and one of the following:

1. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration; or

2. A residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause the individual to decompensate; or

3. Current history of 1 or more years' inability to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement, with an indication of continued need for such an arrangement.

About the condition Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder that affects about 1 percent of Americans. It is a complicated disorder that is commonly treated by antipsychotic drugs, which can alleviate symptoms in some patients, but not cure the disease. While the medical community has known about schizophrenia for a long time, no known cause has been found. Fortunately, new studies may hold the key.

Scientists from the studies believe the mental illness may be caused by mutations in various genes that interrupt biological pathways essential to normal brain development. This frees up the idea they are searching for one key gene that is responsible for schizophrenia. Now, they are considering the fact that there might be many different DNA deletions and duplications that disrupt genes linked to pathways crucial to brain development.

One team looked at a group of schizophrenics who developed the disease as children, finding genetic interruptions or glitches in 20 percent, while another study looked at DNA from 268 healthy people and 150 schizophrenics and found that 15 percent of the schizophrenics had these glitches, while only 5 percent of the healthy subjects showed a presence of disruptions. The second study was done by researchers at the University of Washington and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.

Finding the genes responsible for these glitches in brain development may inspire new drugs to treat schizophrenia and other neuro-developmental brain disorders. More studies are ongoing.

Essential Questions

What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?

Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?

Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

Receiving a Disability Award Letter

Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability

Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

Applying for disability in your state

Most popular topics on SSDRC.com

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

The listings, list of disabling impairments

Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?

Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials

How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?

How to apply for disability for a child or children

Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

How to apply for disability - where to apply

Qualifications for disability benefits

How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Disability - The Process

How to get disability for depression

Getting disability for fibromyalgia

SSI disability for children with ADHD

What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?

Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips

More Social Security Disability SSI Questions

Social Security Disability SSI definitions

What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI?

New and featured pages on SSDRC.com

Who can help me file for disability?

Related Body System Impairments:

MPD Multiple Personality Disorder and Filing for Disability
Personality Disorder and Filing for Disability
Schizoaffective Disorder and Filing for Disability
Schizophrenia, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits
Antisocial Personality Disorder and Filing for Disability
Somatoform Disorders and Filing for Disability
What conditions will qualify for disability in Missouri?
How much can you get for disability in Missouri?
Disability requirements and criteria in Missouri

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

Permanent Social Security Disability

What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

Who is eligible for SSI disability?

Can I Be Eligible For SSI And Social Security Disability At The Same Time?

What makes a person eligible to receive disability benefits?

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?

For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.