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Gathering evidence of a mental illness for the SSA

Every person in California who has a mental illness may share common symptoms with others who are diagnosed with the same condition, but even so, each experience is unique. One factor that is common for many is the difficulty working and the challenges of getting Social Security benefits.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of the issues people suffering from mental illnesses face is that their applications are not likely to be reviewed by people who have mental health credentials. In fact, the Social Security Administration reviewers merely go over the evidence provided by applicants and determine if they meet criteria set by the SSA. These criteria are not the same as those mental health providers use to diagnose a mental illness. This makes it extremely important to review what evidence the SSA requires rather than assuming that a professional diagnosis will be enough.

The SSA explains that the evidence can include a diagnosis of a mental disorder. However, an applicant should not stop there. Other medical evidence may include the following:

  • A list of symptoms and their expected duration, as well as how these affect current and future functionality
  • Psychological tests, lab reports and imaging results
  • Clinical findings such as exam results, adaptive functioning or rating scales
  • Details about medications such as type and dosage, as well as beneficial and side effects
  • Other treatments, such as therapy, and their duration and effects

With consent from the applicant, nonmedical evidence may be gathered from friends, family members, caregivers, social workers and other third parties who can attest to his or her symptoms, ability to function and treatments. 

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