You can file for Social Security Disability for a mental disorder or problem if it interferes with substantial gainful activity

You may file for Social Security Disability or SSI for a mental problem or disorder, if it prevents you from performing substantial gainful work activity. Social Security does not differentiate between physical and mental problems; simply the condition is so severe that it prevents the performance of any kind of substantial work activity (SGA).

An evaluation on the basis of a mental disorder or problem requires an impairment that is documented by objective medical evidence, a consideration of the limitations that your mental disorder or disease imposes on your ability to work, and an evaluation as to whether these limitations will last for twelve continuous months or more.

In order to make this determination, disability examiners use a disability guide book that contains nine diagnostic mental impairment listings:
  • Organic mental disorders
  • Schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders
  • Affective disorders (depression and bipolar syndrome)
  • Mental retardation
  • Anxiety-related disorders
  • Somatoform disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance addiction disorders
  • Autistic and other pervasive developmental disorders
Most of the mental impairment listings contain three paragraphs. Paragraph A contains the criteria needed to medically document the presence of a specific mental disorder. The listings give specific symptoms, signs, and lab findings needed to substantiate the presence of a certain mental disorder. Paragraphs B and C are used to describe functional limitations that are not conducive to the performance of gainful work activity.

If your mental disorder or problem meets or equals the criteria of an impairment listing, Social Security determines that you could not reasonably be expected to perform any gainful work activity. If your mental condition does not meet or equal an impairment listing in severity, then you may or may not have the residual functional capacity to perform substantial work activity.

The decision on your case would be dependent on what social security considers to be your mental functional capacity, referred to as your MRFC, or mental residual functional capacity.

A determination of your mental residual functional capacity is critical to the evaluation of your ability to perform SGA when your mental disorder or problem does not meet or equal the criteria of a specific impairment listing.

The mental residual functional capacity evaluation (MRFC) is a detailed description of work related abilities you have in spite of the limitations of your mental disorder. An assessment of your residual functional capacity is necessary to satisfy paragraphs B and C of most mental impairment listings.

The definition of Social Security Disability is defined by three factors: a severe mental or physical condition, inability to perform substantial gainful work activity, and a twelve-month continuous period of disability. If you meet these criteria you can file for and potentially be approved for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits.

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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