The Facts about Mental Illness and Social Security Disability Benefits
The prevalence and wide array of illnesses that are considered “mental disabilities” can complicate the Social Security Disability application process. While the term is very broad, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about one in every four American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder (source). Still, it is no argument that suffering from this can have a profound impact on your life. At our offices, we often receive questions about mental illness and applying for Social Security Disability benefits, and wanted to address some of the more common ones.
Can I Collect Social Security Disability Benefits if I Suffer from a Mental Illness?
The simple answer is yes. The Social Security Administration awards disability benefits for physical and mental medical conditions. However, proving a mental illness is much more difficult than proving a physical illness and this may make it harder to prove your case to Social Security.
Mental illness symptoms are not easy to assess, and the severity of your condition may be harder for your doctor to diagnose.
How Does the SSA Handle Mental Illness Claims?
The agency relies heavily on disability claims examiners, but they are not licensed psychiatrists, and don’t always understand the full range of symptoms and limitations involved with mental illnesses.
Disability examiners may not understand the nature of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, or manic depression. These examiners may deny you benefits if they think you’re cured because your symptoms are just not severe at the time of your assessment – even when you know your serious symptoms could return at any point.
What Mental Conditions Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?
Social Security maintains an ongoing list of impairments, often referred to as the blue book. The Social Security Administration should award disability benefits to you if you can prove you suffer a mental or physical condition listed in the blue book and you’re unable to work due to your condition. Some of the mental conditions on the list include:
- mental retardation
- anxiety-related disorders
- affective disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, etc.)
- substance abuse disorders.
How Can a Disability Lawyer Help Me Prove My Mental Condition?
A lawyer who is familiar with Social Security Disability hearings can make a difference in whether or not you win disability benefits for your mental condition – especially if your claim was initially denied. Social Security’s own statistics show that claimants represented by an attorney at hearings win more often than claimants who represent themselves*.
An experienced disability attorney can make sure you are seeing the right doctors and have the right medical evidence to prove your disability to the Social Security Administration. Whether you’re applying for the first time or appealing your denial, it is recommended that you consider contacting a disability attorney to help prove your mental condition to the Social Security Administration.
* Source: November 16, 2001 Congressional Record, Testimony of Honorable Robert T. Matsui of California, regarding the Attorney Fee Payment System Improvement Act 2001.