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Applying for SSD benefits based on mental illness

Social Security Disability benefits are an extremely important tool for individuals who have medical conditions that prevent them from being able to work. These benefits are not just limited to individuals with physical impairments. Federal law also allows individuals with mental illnesses to seek SSD benefits.

As with physical impairments, the Social Security Administration does not require applicants to demonstrate a specific set of symptoms before they can be awarded benefits. Instead, the SSA looks at the totality of a person's circumstances to determine whether he or she has the functional capacity to hold down a job.

In doing so, the SSA will consider all of the conditions a person has, even if most of the person's problems are caused by a mental impairment. In the context of those conditions, the SSA will evaluate the extent to which the person's ability to perform basic employment-related tasks is impaired. Some of the factors the SSA considers include the following:

  • The ability to complete activities of daily living such as maintaining a home, taking public transportation, finding basic information, paying bills and taking care of grooming and hygiene.
  • The ability to function socially, including the ability to interact with strangers, cooperate with others, participate in group activities, and respond appropriately to authority.
  • The ability to concentrate and sustain focused attention long enough to complete job-related tasks.
  • Any history of episodic symptom exacerbation or loss of functioning, especially those that required medical intervention.

To evaluate this information, the SSA will conduct an in-depth review of the applicant's medical records. The agency will likely also conduct an in-person or telephone interview.

In addition to this medical information, the SSA will also consider factors including the applicant's work history and current earnings. It is important to note, however, that the relevant question is not whether the applicant can return to his or her former line of work. Instead, the SSA is looking to determine whether the applicant can perform any job.

Getting help from an attorney

Because the application process can be so complicated, it is advisable to enlist the help of an experienced Social Security Disability attorney, especially if you have a complex medical history. The attorney will be able to work with you to ensure that your application is completed correctly and that the SSA is presented with the most persuasive evidence.

It is also important to note that a significant number of well-justified disability applications are initially rejected. If this happens to you; don't despair. An experienced SSD attorney can help you appeal the denial and seek the benefits you need.

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