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Do Mental Health Conditions Qualify For Social Security Disability Benefits?

A common question among potential disability benefits recipients is “Can I receive SSDI, SSI or other disability benefits for a mental disorder or disability?” The answer is yes. Roughly 29.1% of disabled workers and 73.9% of disabled adult children are receiving disability benefits due to intellectual and other mental disorders, according to 2021 Social Security Administration data. Disability benefits include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Some disabled beneficiaries receive both types of benefits.

However, there are some nuances regarding mental health conditions and qualifications for Social Security disability benefits.

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Mental Health Qualifications For SSDI and SSI

For your mental health condition to qualify you for Social Security disability benefits, your mental health condition has to meet the benchmark of a disability set by the Social Security Administration. The Social Security Administration defines disability as a mental or physical impairment that prevents you from engaging in “substantial gainful activity” and has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.

Here, “substantial gainful activity” means a certain level of work activity or earning capacity. It involves a specific level of physical and/or mental effort, as well as the ability to generate profit or income. The amount of income or potential income considered “substantial gainful activity” will depend on your disability and living circumstances.

As a result, your mental health condition has to be severe enough to limit your ability to perform basic work activities, such as remembering and carrying out instructions, maintaining concentration and focus, adapting to changes in the work environment and being able to manage oneself overall.

If Applying For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Your eligibility is based on how long you have been working and paying into the Social Security system. Generally, you would have had to work five out of the ten years prior to the onset of your mental health condition. This is measured in work credits. One year is four credits. However, if you’re relatively young, you may have to fit a different set of criteria to qualify: if you became disabled before age 24, you will need six credits from the prior three years. If you became disabled between ages 24-31, you need credits for half the time between age 21 and the age you became disabled.

If Applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Your eligibility is based on disability, income and resources. SSI is a needs-based program with limits on recipients’ income and resources. The resource limit for SSI depends on your situation. Generally, the SSI limits are $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples.

What Are The Most Common Mental Health Conditions?

According to the National Alliance On Mental Health, 1 in 25 adults in the United States live with a serious mental illness. The most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in the U.S. are anxiety disorders, major depression and bipolar disorder. However, other common mental health conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

  • Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive anxiety, worry, apprehension, fear and/or avoidance of things that might cause distress. Such disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and anxiety disorder.
  • Major Depressive Disorder: Also known as clinical depression, MDD is characterized by depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, appetite or weight issues, fatigue, sleep issues, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, diminished ability to concentrate, and/or suicide ideation.
  • Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorders are characterized by symptoms of both depression (sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest) and mania (overactivity, delusions and euphoria). The categories of bipolar disorder include Bipolar I, Bipolar II and Cyclothymic disorder.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD is a disorder in which someone experiences severe anxiety and distress after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms can include distressing dreams, memories or flashbacks, a tendency to avoid things that remind you of the traumatic event, as well as irritability, hypervigilance, reckless behavior and persistent negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
  • Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a severe and chronic mental disorder in which a person experiences delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behavior, diminished emotional expression or lack of motivation.

If the onset of one or more of these conditions has impacted your ability to find or retain work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance and/or Supplemental Security Income.

Complete List of Types of Mental Health Conditions

The Social Security Administration keeps a blue book of physical and mental impairments that may qualify you for Social Security disability benefits if you are unable to perform substantial gainful activity. In this case, there is a separate bluebook for adult mental health disorders and child mental health disorders. This is because certain mental health conditions are specific to children, and others are not diagnosed until adulthood. That being said, these categories have broad overlap.

  • Neurocognitive: These disorders are marked by cognitive decline and mental functioning over a period of time. Neurocognitive disorders include dementia, Parkinson’s disease and traumatic brain injury.
  • Psychotic Disorders: These disorders are marked by delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech or behavior, and certain limitations in mental functioning. Psychotic disorders include schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.
  • Depressive, Bipolar and Related Disorders: This category of disorders includes major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and, for children, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. These disorders include symptoms of depressed or irritable moods, mania, disturbances in sleep or appetite and other mood disturbances.
  • Intellectual Disorders: These disorders are marked by impairments in intellectual and adaptive functioning, the latter of which is revealed through their level of dependence on others for personal needs (in children, whether it’s age appropriate). Often, but not always, there is an IQ score of 70 or below on a standardized intelligence test.
  • Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders: This category includes anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Somatic Symptoms and Related Disorders: Somatic disorders can be characterized by a preoccupation with having a serious illness despite zero symptoms, distressing somatic symptoms coupled with excessive focus, or “symptoms of altered voluntary motor or sensory function” not better explained by another disorder.
  • Personality Disorders and Impulse-Control Disorders: These disorders can be characterized by impulsive behavioral outbursts, instability or detachment in personal and social relationships, distrust, suspiciousness, excessive emotionality, attention seeking behaviors, or disregard for the rights of others. Examples of included disorders are paranoid, schizoid, borderline, avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive personality disorders, and intermittent explosive disorder.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: Autism spectrum disorder, as recorded in the Blue Book, is marked by deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, as well as restricted or repetitive interests or behaviors.
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders: This category of disorders is marked by difficulties in learning and academic skills, hyperactive or impulsive behaviors and/or frequent distractibility. Examples include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and various learning disabilities.
  • Eating Disorders: This category of disorders includes but is not limited to anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder.
    Trauma and Stressor-related disorders: These disorders are marked by exposure to a traumatic event, mood and behavior disturbances, increased reactiveness or fear, and flashbacks to the traumatic event, among other symptoms. This category includes post traumatic stress disorder and, in children, reactive attachment disorder.
  • Developmental Disorders in Infants and Toddlers: This category pertains to development of skills in children. These disorders include delays or deficits in these skills, or a loss of skills they had once developed.

What If My Mental Health Condition Isn’t In The Blue Book?

If you have a mental health condition that isn’t listed in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book, your mental health condition will be compared to the most similar entry in the blue book and then evaluated by how much it impairs your ability to keep or obtain employment. Basically, your mental health condition will be compared to an entry that has similar functional limitations. Then, the Social Security Administration looks at these limitations and checks if it impairs both your ability to retain your job and your ability to transition into other lines of work.

Consult A Social Security Disability Attorney Today

If you have further questions about mental health conditions and your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits, contact us at 833-MY-DISABILITY (833-693-4722) for a free consultation.

Do not pursue the disability application or appeals process alone. If you are unable or no longer able to work due to a physical or mental disability, our Social Security disability attorneys can help you obtain SSDI or SSI benefits. There are no upfront fees for our consultations, representation or other disability services.

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