When Mental Health Keeps you from Working

stress photoAwareness of mental illness has come a long way, but it can still be tough to prove it’s a disabling condition, at least according to Social Security criteria.

In our practice, we often hear statements like, “My neighbor’s son got disability just because he said he was depressed (or is bipolar, or has anxiety).” While Social Security does award benefits to individuals based on mental impairment, the truth is that such cases often face more of an uphill battle than do claims based on physical limitations.

Part of the reason for this is obvious: one can see when a person has trouble walking, lifting or breathing, but it’s not always apparent when someone suffers from mental issues. However, just because the case is hard to win doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Social Security lists a number of mental impairments that warrant disability coverage, provided they are severe enough. These include: schizophrenia, autism, anxiety, intellectual disability, depression and bipolar and substance abuse disorders. However, not only does there need to be a diagnosis of such impairment, there has to be proof that it affects the person to the point that it severely impacts their ability to hold a job.

Claims for mental disability are strengthened when the person has complementing physical problems, such as suffering depression because they are in so much pain or due to the limitations and isolation caused by other illnesses. The person seeking disability also should be treated by a medical professional specializing in mental health; simply getting a prescription for an anti-depressant from their family doctor won’t carry much weight. Because the symptoms of some mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, can fluctuate, there also have to be treatment records covering a fairly extensive time span, indicating consistent treatment and/or how the symptoms may fade, only to reappear.

Good documentation is key. In addition to getting records from your doctor, we have questionnaires that make it easier for him or her to focus on the information Social Security needs to completely and fairly evaluate your mental health claim.  Don’t be afraid to tell your physician about your symptoms — some people still fear there is a stigma associated with mental or emotional disorders and hesitate to speak up.  We can’t prove what we can’t document!

Be sure to take medications as ordered by your doctor; non-compliance will only hurt your case. Information from former co-workers or family members who saw how your conditions impacted your behavior play a part as well.

These are all pieces of the Social Security Disability puzzle for mental health. Let us show you how they fit together!


Skip to content