Facts about Dysthymia and Filing for Disability

These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.

  • How to apply for disability and the information that Social Security needs

  • Who will qualify for disability and what qualifying is based on

  • Requirements for disability - Qualifications Criteria for SSD and SSI

  • How to Prove you are disabled and win your disability benefits

  • Facts about the condition

    1. Dysthymia is a form of depression with only mild symptoms. It is chronic and generally coincides with another condition, such as a long-term physical illness, anxiety disorder, or addiction.

    2. Dysthymia symptoms are the same as depression symptoms, except they are less severe. These symptoms include hopelessness, not sleeping or sleeping too much, trouble concentrating or making decisions, low energy and fatigue, low self-esteem, not eating or over-eating. When these symptoms intensify it can lead to an episode of major depression, sometimes called having double depression.

    3. The condition cannot be diagnosed unless the individual has experienced a low-grade onset of at least two symptoms almost daily for at least two years. Those with dysthymia do not have an onset of even mild mania, so this must be excluded from the individual's symptoms in order for a dysthymia diagnosis.

    4. Those with dysthymia may also be over-stressed, but it is often unknown whether the stress is caused by the dysthymia condition or by separate factors.

    5. Although dysthymia symptoms are less severe than with major depression, it is more disruptive over the long run because it lasts longer than bouts of major depression tend to. Quality of life can be lower for those with dysthymia because affected individuals tend to have low self-esteem and not be interested in day-to-day or recreational activities.

    6. Biochemical makeup, genetic predisposition and environmental factors are all suspected to contribute to dysthymia. It is not known specifically what causes the condition in each affected individual.

    7. The most effective treatment for dysthymia is thought to be a combination of drug therapy (antidepressants) and psychotherapy.

    8. Certain lifestyle choices can contribute to helpful treatment of dysthymia. Those with the condition should be consistent with treatment and prescriptions, pay attention to moods and warning signs of depression and seek help if symptoms escalate, engage in physical activity and exercise, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.

    Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition

    Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records.

    This includes whatever statements and treatment notes that may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis). It also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.

    In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.

    Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.

    The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).

    Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?

    There are several reasons but here are just two:

    1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant's disability attorney or disability representative will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge.

    Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.

    2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.

    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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