Is Qualifying for Disability Benefits Because of Mental Illnesses Difficult?
Whether you are attempting to secure mental illness disability benefits or physical impairment disability benefits, there are certain requirements you must meet, including:
- Your disability must be expected to last at least one year or result in death—SSA only considers you disabled if you are unable to work due to a severe medical condition that has lasted or is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Because the SSA defines disability so strictly—and there is no “partial” disability—SSD beneficiaries are among the most severely impaired in the United States.
- You must meet both a duration of work test and a recent work test—the duration of work test means you must have a specific number of “work credits” to qualify for SS disability benefits. The older you are, the more work credits you will need. The recent work test requires you to have a specific number of years worked during the period just prior to when you became disabled. As an example, if you are under the age of 24 you must have worked at least 1.5 years prior to becoming disabled. If you are 31, however, you must have worked for half the required time, beginning when you turned 21 (5 out of the ten years). Certain blind workers must only meet the duration of work test. You can find an SSA Duration of Work Table here on the SSA’s website.
- You must meet the income requirements to qualify for disability benefits—As of 2022, you can make up to $1,350 per month in Substantial Gainful Activity ($2,260 if you are blind). During the trial work period, there are no limits on your earnings, but if you exceed the $1,350 allowable income, then your SSD benefits may stop. Some forms of income (like child support) are not counted against your total monthly earned income.
While mental illnesses can be just as disabling as physical impairments, they can be more difficult to prove. This is due to the absence of conclusive testing methods, “concrete” evidence, and a certain lack of consistency in observable mental impairment symptoms. This does not mean you cannot be approved for mental illness disability benefits —just that it may be more challenging to do so. If your mental disability meets a Blue Book mental impairment listing, then you are more likely to be approved for SSD benefits.
You will need to have medical documentation, records and notes from your treating physicians that clearly show it is impossible for you to work full-time given your mental illness. Unfortunately, for some with a mental impairment, adequately expressing symptoms can be difficult—a required part of reaching a diagnosis.
Supporting testimony from those closest to you who can accurately describe your mental illness and how it affects your day-to-day life can be extremely helpful. This testimony may come from family members, social workers, friends, or others with whom you regularly interact and may include observations on how your mental impairment affects your ability to perform routine functions, interact socially, and obtain sufficient employment.
What are Examples of Mental Illnesses That Could Qualify You for Disability Benefits?
Under Blue Book listings for mental impairments, you will find the following categories:
- Psychotic disorders like Schizoaffective disorder, Schizophrenia, or Delusional disorder
- Personality disorders like Intermittent Explosive disorder, Paranoid disorder, and Schizotypal disorder, as well as other impulse-control disorders that bring pervasive or inflexible behaviors and make it difficult to retain employment.
- Neurocognitive disorders like dementia that are due to a medical condition like TBI, HIV, or a progressive brain tumor, Vascular dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease, and cause memory loss as well as issues with speech, judgment, and decision-making.
- Autism spectrum disorders that include deficits related to social interaction, communication, and behavior patterns with symptoms like unusual responses to stimuli, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and self-injurious actions.
- Anxiety disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can result in muscle tension, panic attacks, and insomnia. (Anxiety disorders do not include anxiety related to trauma like PTSD).
- Neurodevelopmental disorders like Tourette Syndrome, learning disorders, and borderline intellectual functioning that includes poor attention or impulse control, along with abnormal cognitive processing.
- Depressive disorders like bipolar disorder and cyclothymic disorder. Depressive disorders can cause mood swings, loss of interest in virtually anything, and significant changes in appetite, energy, sleep, or weight.
- Somatic symptoms disorders like illness anxiety disorder or conversion disorder. This category covers disorders with physical symptoms that cannot be explained by any other mental or physical condition—but are being faked.
- Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or restrictive food disorder that result in a preoccupation with body weight, binging and purging, and severe food restriction.
- Intellectual disorders including sub-average intellectual functioning, intellectual development disorder, and intellectual disabilities.
- Trauma disorders including mental illnesses related to trauma and stress that may cause persistent fear or anger, flashbacks, aggression, sleep issues, or anxiety. The most common example of a trauma disorder is PTSD.
This means that bipolar disorder, autism, Asperger’s, anxiety disorders, depression, learning disorders, Schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury, memory or cognitive disorders, ADD/ADHD, bulimia, anorexia, PTSD, personality disorders, and impaired IQ or intellectual disabilities can result in qualifying for disability benefits because of mental impairments.
Are There Mental Illnesses That Automatically Qualify You for Disability Benefits?
Since SSA uses a variety of information when evaluating your specific mental illness, it is unlikely that a specific medical impairment automatically qualifies you for SSD benefits. Information regarding your day-to-day life, along with your ability to function both in your work environment as well as in social settings will have a bearing on whether you are approved for mental illness disability benefits.
This could include what impact the mental illness has on your ability to take care of your personal hygiene, do household chores, cook, shop, and pay bills. Social functioning ability is another area the SSA will look at. This includes your ability to interact appropriately and effectively with others in a workplace environment. When taken as a whole, this is known as your mental Residual Functional Capacity assessment. Your mental capacity is rated in five categories with “extreme” meaning you are unable to function in this capacity, “marked” meaning your ability to function in a specific category is seriously limited, “moderate” meaning your ability to function in a specific category is fair, “mild,” meaning your ability to function in a specific category is slightly limited, and “none,” meaning you can function in a specific category appropriately, independently, effectively, and on a sustained basis.
Usually, the SSA must find you “markedly” limited in one or more areas, or you may have a difficult time securing SSD benefits. A person with “marked” limitations is considered unable to perform even simple, unskilled work. The areas the SSA places these categories on include:
- Understanding and memory
- Social interactions
- Sustained concentration and persistence
- Adaptation or managing yourself
The SSA will consider medical evidence (medical records and medical tests, doctor’s reports), as well as nonmedical evidence which includes reports from family, friends, co-workers, supervisors, social workers, and staff in a supported living facility where you live. All of these things taken together create a mental RFC that details your functional limitations.
How the Sharry & Monfette, LLP Lawyers Can Help You Qualify for Disability Benefits
At Sharry & Monfette, LLP, we truly hear our clients, then we counsel, protect, and advocate for them with a goal of a positive outcome—approval for the disability benefits they need and deserve. Our goal is to provide an exceptional client experience for each client—although many firms claim to be “client-centric,” we really are.
If you are facing difficulties qualifying for mental illness disability benefits in Worcester, Massachusetts, we can help. We know the difficulties you are facing as you are unable to work due to your disability and facing financial devastation. We arm ourselves with skill, humility, and honor, then go to work fighting for you. Along with an extensive knowledge of the law, the Sharry & Monfette attorneys are dedicated to the truth and achieving justice for each client. Christopher Sharry is a Sharry & Monfette, LLP partner—and the driving force behind the efforts to fully develop the firm’s SSD/SSDI practice area.
Our firm is well-known for representing those seeking justice, perhaps after being denied SSD benefits even when they are well-deserved. We provide highly personalized attention from a team that will do whatever it takes to help you get your life back on track while managing long-term issues. Contact Sharry & Monfette, LLP today.