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Applying for Disability Benefits with a Mental Illness

KidIf you are suffering from a severe mental illness that prevents you from working, you could potentially qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). In order to do so, you must meet the technical requirements for eligibility and also have the necessary medical documentation to prove that your mental illness prevents you from maintaining gainful employment.

The SSA’s Disability Programs

SSD programs administered by the SSA include:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is a program for disabled workers, and sometimes their dependents.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a need-based program designed to pay benefits to those who need them most, including disabled workers and individuals who cannot qualify for SSDI. Children will only qualify for SSI since they do not have any work history.

With a mental illness, you may be able to meet the medical criteria for eligibility under both SSDI and/or SSI. However, in order to do so, you must not only build your medical records to meet the SSA’s documentation requirements, but also meet the technical eligibly rules for either or both programs.

Technical Eligibility for SSD Benefits

  • SSDI requires you worked long enough, and recently enough, to build up the required “work credits” by paying into the program through Social Security taxes (FICA).
  • SSI requires you have very limited income and other financial resources with which to support yourself.

For more information on the specific qualification requirements for SSDI and SSI, please visit:

Mental Illnesses and Proving Disability

The SSA recognizes a number of mental illnesses as disabilities. The conditions in the following section are among those listed in the SSA’s Blue Book. This does not mean you automatically qualify for SSD benefits however. You must still prove your condition is so severe that it prevents you from getting and keeping a job in which you can earn a gainful living. You must also support your claim for disability benefits with substantial medical records and other documentation.

Conditions that May Qualify

Many mental illnesses can qualify for disability, though in order to do so, they must cause severe and persistent symptoms, despite consistent treatment. In other words, you must follow the treatment regimen prescribed by a doctor and still suffer from severe limitations in order to qualify for benefits.

The following are just a few of the primary conditions listed in the Mental Disorder (12.00) section of the SSA’s Blue Book, which is a manual of potentially disabling conditions, including the medical documentation required for proving disability with each.

  • Organic mental disorders, or those caused by a physiological issue, like a brain deformity or brain injury
  • Schizophrenia
  • Affective disorder
  • Personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance addition disorder

Fore more information on applying for benefits with a mental illness, please visit:

Medical Records and Finding a Doctor

If you suffer from a mental illness, you need consistent medical care to live as full and “normal” a life as possible. You also need to regularly see a medical doctor or a psychiatrist regularly in order to obtain a formal diagnosis, build up your medical records, and to follow a treatment protocol, all of which are essential components of satisfying the SSA’s medical eligibility criteria for SSD benefits.

Applying for Benefits

You can apply for benefits either online or at your local SSA Office. If you are applying for benefits on behalf of someone else, you can only apply for benefits in person. The SSA denies over 60% of initial claims for disability. Don’t be discouraged if you are among the denied. There is an extensive appeals process through which you can obtain the benefits you need.

If your claim is denied, you will have to file a request for reconsideration with 60 days of receiving your denial notice. If your reconsideration is denied as well, you will have to request to have a disability hearing. You should strongly consider hiring a disability attorney or advocate to represent you during the disability hearing.

Article by Ram Meyyappan
Social Security Disability Help

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