Skip to Content

Receiving Social Security Disability Benefits for a Mental Disorder

June 8, 2016 Blog

Mental disorders cover an array of conditions including depression, anxiety, personality disorder, autism, intellectual disability, and schizophrenia.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays Social Security disability benefits and supplemental security income if the limitations resulting from your mental impairment prevent you from working a full-time job.  Social Security disability benefits are available if you have earned enough work credits.  Supplemental security income is available if you fall within certain income restrictions. See if you’re eligible to receive social security benefits for mental disorders.

How Social Security Analyzes Your Disability Claim

The SSA will ask for medical records and medical opinions confirming that you have been diagnosed with a mental disorder (a medically determinable mental impairment) by a licensed doctor or psychologist, the mental disorder is expected to last or has lasted at least 12 months, and the mental disorder is severe enough to affect your ability to perform work activities.  Work activities consist of the ability to understand and remember simple 1-2 step instructions up to very complex activities, to use judgment in normal work situations, to interact properly with your supervisor, coworkers, and the general public, and to handle changes that occur in a work environment.

If Social Security is satisfied that your mental disorder qualifies as a severe impairment, then the agency will decide whether you are presumed disabled by meeting a disability listing found in the Listing of Impairments.  There are nine categories for mental disorders found in Section 12.00 of the Listing of Impairments.  The SSA will focus on work-related limitations in the areas of activities of daily living; social functioning; the ability to sustain concentration, persistence, or pace; and episodes of decompensation.  In general, if you have a marked limitation in two or more of the above areas, then you would meet a listing and be found disabled.  You have a greater chance of meeting a listing if you have a mental disorder that is not effectively controlled by medications, you have been hospitalized as a result of your mental disorder, you have a long history of mental health treatment or medical signs supporting a particular mental condition, or medical opinions consistently agree that your mental disorder should meet a listing.

Next, the SSA will determine your residual functional capacity (RFC) based upon your medical evidence and any other evidence in your record.  Your RFC is a summary of all the work-related limitations you have as a result of your mental disorder.  At the final step, the Social Security Administration will use your RFC in deciding whether you can perform your past work or any other work in significant numbers in the national economy.  If there is no work you can perform, then you would be found disabled.  For instance, if your treating doctor has diagnosed you with an anxiety disorder, she might have stated in a medical opinion that you should be limited to the following restrictions: a low stress work environment, no public contact, limited co-worker contact, and dealing with only a few changes in a regular work setting.

Surprisingly, the most helpful limitations in that list could be the restriction to a low stress environment and dealing with only a few changes in a work setting.  If your claim for Social Security disability benefits has been denied and you are in an administrative hearing, Social Security would need to call upon the services of a vocational expert to help determine what types of jobs would be available with those types of restrictions.  A Sarasota disability lawyer can help to make sure that SSA properly evaluates your medical evidence and includes every limitation in your RFC assessment.

Why Your Claim for Social Security Disability Benefits Has Been Denied

Following are three common reasons why your disability claim could be denied if you have filed on the basis of a mental disorder.

(1) First, the Social Security Administration may deny your claim due to a lack of consistent mental health treatment or therapy.  If there is a lack of medical evidence, the SSA will draw the conclusion that you are not disabled.  However, Social Security regulations state that your inability to pay for medical treatment cannot be used against you as a reason for denying your claim.  It is helpful to tell your primary doctor whether you are experiencing any symptoms relating to a mental condition, so that you may be properly diagnosed and your doctor could recommend ongoing mental health treatment.  If you do not have a regular doctor, you should seek any community based mental health programs that offer low cost treatment.

(2) Second, the SSA may deny your claim because your mental disorder is effectively controlled by medications.  Here, it is helpful to communicate to your treating provider whether you still have any bad days (days when you would be unable to work) even when you take medications, and whether there are side effects to your medications.

(3) Third, the SSA may deny your claim because there are no medical opinions which suggest any work-related limitations resulting from your mental disorder.  If you have no medical opinion or statement from any mental health provider regarding your work limitations, then you can have a Sarasota disability lawyer like Mike Murburg help you in gathering that information.