Can I Qualify for Disability Benefits with a Mental Health Issue or Illness?

One of the key standards the SSA (Social Security Administration) evaluates when making disability determinations is the presence, type, and severity of a claimant’s disability.  To help clarify how the SSA makes its medical judgments, our disability attorneys have been writing a series of disability blog posts about the SSA’s disability guidelines.  In the past, we’ve covered obesity, cardiovascular disease, and rare illnesses.  In this entry, we’ll answer the question: can I qualify for benefits with a mental disorder?

Mental Health and Disability Benefits in Pennsylvania

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, approximately one in four Americans will experience the effects of a mental illness in an average year.  That’s a massive chunk of the population, representing over 61 million people, or nearly 25% of the country.  NAMI reports that the some of most common mental illnesses in the United States include:

  • Schizophrenia (2.6 million people)
  • Bipolar Disorder (6.1 million people)
  • Depression (14.8 million people)
  • Anxiety (42 million people)

Among the 61 million-plus who live with mental illness, about 13.6 million are classified as living with a serious mental illness (e.g. PTSD, schizophrenia, major depression).  Among 18-44 year olds, mood disorders are the third leading cause of hospitalizations in the United States.

Can a Mental Illness Qualify Me for Disability Benefits in Pennsylvania?

It’s understood that when you have a broken back, you are simply physically unable to work. Unfortunately, many mental illnesses do not have the same “obvious” quality, and are sometimes undermined and minimized due to ignorance and stigmatization.  While no one questions the validity of a broken back, sufferers of depression are sometimes told to “cheer up,” while sufferers of anxiety may be told they “just need to relax.”

While the perception of mental illness by the general public is sometimes inaccurate, the SSA fortunately takes a more informed approach when considering the potential for debilitating side effects. In fact, an entire section of the “Blue Book” Listing of Impairments, Section 12.00, is devoted to mental disorders.  So what does Section 12.00 cover?

Schizophrenic, Paranoid, and Other Psychotic Disorders (Section 12.03)

Section 12.03 defines this group of disorders as being “characterized by the onset of psychotic features with deterioration from a previous level of functioning.”  But while the SSA recognizes the medical validity of these disorders, they must meet additional requirements in order to be considered disabling “enough” to merit benefits.

For example, the SSA requires “medically documented persistence… of one or more of the following,” and goes on to cite hallucinations, catatonia, and emotional withdrawal among potential symptoms. Furthermore, these symptoms must lead to “marked difficulties” in various areas, including “daily living” and “social functioning.”

How Do Affective and Anxiety Disorders Qualify Me for Disability Benefits?

Affective Disorders (Section 12.04)

These disorders include depression and Bipolar Syndrome.  As with psychotic disorders, affective disorders must meet several standards of severity.  For example, a certain number of symptoms must be “medically documented,” including “appetite disturbance,” “sleep disturbance,” and “feelings of guilt or worthlessness.” Once again, these symptoms must result in various “marked difficulties.”

Anxiety Disorders (Section 12.06):

Include anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and extreme phobias. Some of the symptoms which must be documented include “recurrent severe panic attacks,” “generalized persistent anxiety,” and “recurrent obsessions or compulsions,” depending upon the disorder.  “Marked difficulties” must result.

Mental Health Issues That Qualify for Disability Benefits

  • Somatoform Disorders (Section 12.07)
  • Personality Disorders (Section 12.08)
  • Substance Addiction Disorders (Section 12.09)
  • Autistic Disorder (Section 12.10)
  • Intellectual Disability (Section 12.05)
  • Organic Mental Disorders (Section 12.02)

Depending upon the nature of your disorder, the SSA may look at your medical records, interview you, or subject you to psychological testing or IQ testing.

Our Pennsylvania Disability Attorneys Can Help if You are Battling a Mental Health Issue

If you are trying to qualify for benefits in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, Young, Marr & Associates can help. To speak with a disability attorney, call our law offices at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania, or contact us online today.