Social Security Disability Insurance is a program that provides federal benefits to people who are living with a disability and who have a qualifying work history.

The average benefit for SSDI as of January 2022 is $1,223, and the maximum monthly benefit is $4,345, based on work history.

The SSDI program is not the same as Social Security Income, which is a federal income program for people who are over the age of 65, are blind, or have a disability and limited or no income or resources.

When we think about SSDI, we often think about physical conditions that make it not possible for a person to work, but mental health conditions can impact daily living and work as much in some cases.

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Many emotional and mental health disabilities do qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, with caveats.

Understanding Mental Health Disorders

Mental illness affects nearly 21% of all American adults. Around five percent of U.S. adults experience severe mental illness in any given year. People with mental illnesses often have a hard time at work and in their functionality in their daily lives.

A mental disorder is characterized by significant disruptions or disturbances in a person’s emotional regulation, behavior, or cognition.

The most common mental health disorders include:

  • Anxiety disorders , characterized by worry and fear that are excessive to the situation at hand. The symptoms of anxiety disorder are severe to the point that they significantly impair functioning and cause major distress for the person.
  • Depression, with symptoms of a low mood, sadness, and emptiness. Someone with depression may also have feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and poor concentration.
  • Bipolar disorder, characterized by alternations between depressive episodes and manic periods.
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Other mental health disorders include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and eating disorders.

Mental Disorders that Qualify for SSDI

The Social Security Administration indicates that a person may qualify for SSDI payments if they have a recognized mental disorder preventing them from working for at least 12 months. You have to have sufficient Social Security work credits for SSDI eligibility, and you get credits by earning income and paying Social Security taxes.

The SSA uses the Blue Book, which has eleven types of mental disorders that may qualify for SSDI, broken down into different categories. These categories include:

  • Psychotic disorders—schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder
  • Neurocognitive disorders—dementia because of a medical condition, Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia
  • Anxiety disorders—social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder
  • Depressive disorder—bipolar disorder, depressive disorders, cyclothymic disorder
  • Intellectual disorders
  • Somatic symptom disorders
  • Eating disorders—restrictive food disorder, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa
  • Trauma disorders
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders—learning disorders, Tourette syndrome, borderline intellectual functioning
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Personality disorders
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How to Apply

If you want to apply for SSDI benefits because of a mental disorder, you have to provide evidence to the SSA, including complete medical records of your diagnosis and the treatment you receive for the mental illness. You will have to show that you’ve been unable to work for at least the past 12 months because of the severity of your symptoms.

SSDI applications are complicated, and people are often denied initially because of administrative errors or because they’re missing adequate medical documentation.

Basic eligibility guidelines you have to meet include a formal diagnosis of your condition, and again, your condition has to have disabled you for 12 months or longer.

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After the SSA confirms you meet these basic elements of eligibility, then they review your medical condition in detail.

The SSA will match your medical records to a listing for a disability in the Blue Book.

The Blue Book will have the levels of severity required and the evidence that you’ll need, very specifically, to support your claim.

Specific types of evidence you may need to submit include information about your diagnosis from a psychiatrist or psychologist, brain scans, if applicable, and treatment records. Your treatment records should include medications, therapy, and other treatment approaches used. You’ll also need to have documentation demonstrating how your symptoms affect your activities in everyday life.

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Most mental illness claims require you’ve been taking medicine for at least two years without seeing an improvement in your condition.

It isn’t easy to get SSDI with a mental health condition, but it’s possible. You may have to fight more, show more evidence and potentially work with a lawyer to improve your chances of being approved since it is much harder than with a physical health condition.

 

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