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Mental illness and Social Security Disability

It is often believed that Social Security Disability benefits are only reserved for certain physical disabilities. However, mental disorders and illnesses can also cause serious disability in individuals and can also qualify them for benefits. While it may be difficult to win a claim based on mental illnesses, being approved can be more likely when you know how the process works and what type of evidence you need to provide in support of your claim. 

The most important requirement

You must provide evidence that your mental illness is severe enough that it prevents you from holding a full-time occupation. Being unable to have a full-time job generally means you cannot meet or exceed the level of work required for substantial gainful activity. This amount is typically adjusted yearly due to changes in the economy, so checking with an experienced attorney will assist you in determining this.

How mental illness claims are evaluated

If you meet that basic requirement, your application will be reviewed to determine if it meets or is comparable to a medical condition in the Social Security Listing of Impairments. The listing contains medical conditions that have been deemed severe enough that they automatically approve the claimant for benefits. The condition must also adhere to specific criteria.

Severe mental health conditions

The Listing of Impairments has a section dedicated to mental disorders. Here is what is included in this catalog:

  • Alzheimer's
  • Substance abuse
  • Personality disorders
  • Affective or anxiety-related disorders
  • Schizophrenia, autism or mental retardation
  • Somatoform disorders

Each condition comes with sets of requirements to be met. These requirements are in place to ensure the applicant thoroughly proves his or her condition. A diagnosis of the illness is not enough; there must also be evidence that it causes significant functional limitations.

Functional limitations


Functional limitations are any limitations you experience from your mental illness that prevent you from living your life normally. The extent of your limitations will be analyzed in the following categories:

  • Daily activities, such as grocery shopping, paying bills and bathing.
  • Concentration and persistence, such as staying focused on completing work.
  • Social functioning, such as being friendly with others.
  • Episodes of decompensation, or worsening of symptoms.

Your functional limitations must generally be deemed severe in two or more of these areas to succeed with your claim.

If you need more assistance in understanding how to apply for Social Security Disability based on your mental illness, enlisting the help of a professional disability rights attorney can give you clarity and provide representation throughout the process.

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