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What you should know about schizophrenia and disability benefits

Often, a person in California who has a mental health disorder may not know it until well into adulthood. When symptoms begin, they may mimic other health issues, and someone may find it gradually more and more difficult to continue to function normally at work. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, schizophrenia can be one such disorder. Men are more likely to begin to notice symptoms earlier - as early as their late teen years. However, women may not receive a diagnosis until their late 20s or their early 30s. While these are the more common ages, the typical age range for the onset of symptoms and diagnosis is anywhere between 12 and 40.

A mental health professional may diagnose a patient with schizophrenia after he or she has spent at least six months suffering some or all of these symptoms to the point that they reduce function:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized thoughts, speech or behavior
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Inability to complete tasks

Someone may also display negative symptoms such as a loss of interest in life, normal activities and relationships. 

Schizophrenia generally makes it impossible for a person to keep up with job duties of any kind, and many struggle to remain employed. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration recognizes the serious and debilitating nature of this mental health disorder, and Social Security disability benefits may be available.

For a person to qualify, he or she must have medical records such as an official diagnosis and other documentation of hallucinations or delusions, disorganized thinking, catatonia or grossly disorganized behavior. In addition to this, one of the following two must be present:

  • The person must be able to show he or she is extremely limited by difficulty understanding, applying or remembering information; interacting with others; concentrating; and adapting or managing himself or herself.
  • The person has medical records showing that, for at least two years, he or she has undergone medical and other treatment for a serious and persistent manifestation of this disorder, and that treatment does help to reduce the severity of the symptoms. Also, the person must have a severely limited ability to adjust to any changes or extra demands made on his or her daily life.

The SSA looks at a number of sources for evidence of schizophrenia, including psychiatric history, testing and imaging results; details about medications and side effects; and professional notes about the patient's function while undergoing therapy and examinations. The SSA may also gather information from nonmedical sources, such as interviews with family, employers, teachers and social workers.

Although the process may be lengthy, receiving disability benefits often makes a major difference in the quality of life a person with schizophrenia may have.

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