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

How limitations from a mental condition can get you disability

How do you win disability for a mental disorder or impairment?

As with any condition, mental or physical, when it comes to winning Social Security Disability or SSI, it's not about the diagnosis, but how the condition affects and limits your work ability. This is why disability examiners, when they work on your case, will not only ask you where you've received your medical treatment (to order records), but also about your job. They need to know what you did on your job to determine if you can go back to it, and they need to determine what your skills are to see if you are capable of doing some other type of work.

See: How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits.

Social Security places the heaviest weight on functional limitations that result from the disabling condition rather than simply being diagnosed with the condition. When you consider the Social Security definition of disability, you can see that you can not only file for disability, but also win disability benefits on the basis of a mental disorder or illness...provided that your medical records document that you have sufficient limitations which would rule out the ability to engage in substantial work activity.

Social Security's evaluation of mental disorders

Social Security’s evaluation of mental disorders requires A) documentation of a medically determinable impairment (i.e. medical records that contain a diagnosis, medication, response to treatment, etc.), B) a weighing of the limitations imposed upon an individual by their mental illness and how these limitations may affect their ability to work, and C) whether or not the limitations are likely to have lasted, or can be expected to last, twelve continuous months.

When weighing the severity of your mental impairment, Social Security evaluates the affect your illness has on your daily life by considering the following:

1. Your ADLs, or activities of daily living

Activities of daily living might include, but are not limited to adaptive activities such as cooking, cleaning, paying bills, driving a vehicle, caring for your grooming and cleanliness, or performing household chores. Even if you are able to do many of these routine daily activities, Social Security may still find that you have severe limitations performing them if you cannot perform these activities without direct supervision, or in a fitting manner, or on a consistent and routine basis, or without unnecessary interruptions or distractions. ADLs are typically only given superficial consideration on a disability application, but tend to receive more substantial attention at a disability hearing attended by the disability attorney and yourself.

2. Social Functioning

Social functioning is another factor used to determine the impact your mental illness has upon your ability to work. Social functioning refers to your ability to interact appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis with others. Examples of social functioning might include being able to get along with family, friends, landlords, coworkers, or supervisors.

If you have a history of altercations, firings, avoidance of interpersonal relationships, social isolation, or fear of strangers, you may have severe limitations in social functioning. You may be able to interact socially with others, communicate clearly, or participate in groups and yet still have significant limitations. Some work situations require that you must interact with the public, respond to persons of authority, or have cooperative behaviors with coworkers.

Social Security does not define severe limitation of social functioning by a specific amount of different behaviors in which social function is impaired but by the character and extent of interference that the behaviors cause with functionality.

3. Concentration, Persistence and Pace

Concentration, persistence and pace are also considered when determining the severity of an individual’s mental impairment. You need to have the ability to maintain concentration, persistence and pace to complete tasks frequently found in work settings in a timely manner. Limitations with regard to concentration, persistence, and pace can be documented by work situations, however they may also be verified through clinical examinations or psychological testing.

While Social Security considers all of the above criteria when making a disability determination based upon mental illness, they still must have medical evidence that documents symptoms, response to treatment, psychological testing (in cases that involve learning disability, mental retardation, etc.), and laboratory findings to make an independent determination. This information should come from psychiatrists, physicians, psychologists, and other acceptable medical professionals who have clinically treated you in their practices or during hospitalizations.

If you have had no mental health treatment in the past ninety days, you may be required to attend a consultative examination with a mental health professional (paid by Social Security) who will conduct either a mental health status evaluation or conduct needed psychological testing. Social Security considers medical treatment records to be current if treatment has occurred within the previous ninety days. If the disability examiner has no current medical treatment records available in the file, they are required to schedule a consultative examination to obtain recent documentation. Note: if you are scheduled for a CE, do not miss the appointment. Typically, your disability lawyer will send a reminder to you to attend this appointment.

Related: What can I expect from a Social Security Mental Examination or Evaluation?

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 pages:

Can You Get Approved For SSI or SSD Benefits IF You Have A Mental Condition But Do Not Take Medication?
Will Your Claim for Disability be Handled Differently if it is Based on a Physical or Mental Problem?
Can I Qualify For Disability and Receive Benefits based on Depression?
The Social Security Disability and SSI Process for Mental Claims based on Mental Disorders
When you file for disability and have both Mental and Physical Conditions
What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?
Are SSI and Social Security Disability Requirements Tougher For Mental Claims?
Social Security Disability, SSI, Mental Disorders, and Functional Limitations
Why does a disability claim take so long and is it harder if I am under age 55?
Applying for Disability in Missouri
Will I qualify for SSI disability in Missouri?
Applying for SSI benefits 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.