Overview of Disability

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Disability for Mental

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Disability through SSA

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Working and Disability

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Disability Conditions List

What is a disability?

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Social Security Disability, SSI, Mental Disorders, and Functional Limitations

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 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.

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.

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

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

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?

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

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

Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
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?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria