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Do I qualify for Social Security Disability benefits?

If you have a mental health disability and cannot work, you might qualify for Social Security benefits. Social Security must decide that you cannot do work that you did before you became ill and you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s).

Your disability must also last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death. Social Security pays benefits only for total and long-term disability. To qualify for Social Security Disability (SSDI), you must be covered by Social Security Insurance by having paid Social Security taxes.

The Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) assists the aged, blind and disabled individuals who have limited income.

Am I insured under Social Security?
Social Security Disability Insurance pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are “insured,” meaning that you worked long enough, recently enough and paid Social Security taxes.

Your Social Security Statement shows whether you meet the work requirement at the time it was prepared.

What mental health conditions meet the definition of disability?
You must have a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability.
View a complete description of criteria for all mental disorders

How are mental disorders evaluated?
Social Security will consider such factors as your ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively; the amount of supervision or assistance you require; the settings in which you are able to function and your ability to function on a sustained basis.

Your functional limitation will be rated within four areas: Activities of daily living; social functioning; concentration, persistence, or pace; and episodes of increased symptoms. If your mental impairment(s) is severe (resulting in at least two of these restrictions,) evaluators will determine if it’s severe enough to be a listed mental disorder.

A. Determination of Mental Disorders: The evaluation of disability requires documentation of a medically determinable impairment(s), consideration of the degree of limitation such impairment(s) may impose on the individual’s ability to work, and whether these limitations have lasted or are expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.

B. Need for medical evidence: Evaluators will establish the existence of a medical impairment(s) of the required duration by medical evidence consisting of symptoms, psychiatric signs and laboraatory findings.

C. Assessment of severity measures functional limitations, including activities of daily living; social functioning; concentration, and episodes of increased symptoms with difficulties in performing daily activities, maintaining social relationships, or maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace.

How long does it take?
Unfortunately, the Social Security Disability process can be very, very slow. People now wait an average of 520 days, in some areas for almost three years. Many people deplete their resources while waiting.

Prepare to apply

  • Begin to keep a diary about your mental health and the way your life and work have been affected by it.
  • Talk to your psychiatrist about how your condition has prevented you from working and ask your doctor to make copies of your records and compose a letter for your Social Security Disability application.
  • You might also want to ask employers, family members and friends to write letters about your disability.
  • When you apply, be honest about your condition, neither understating or exaggerating it.
  • Keep a record of medications you have taken, their effectiveness and side effects.
  • If you are unable to complete the application procedure on your own, a family member or guardian may do it for you.

Do I need a lawyer to apply?
You can retain the services of an attorney, but it is not necessary, and the attorney will charge a fee, sometimes a portion of your award. You can complete your application, either on the phone or in person, with the help of a Social Security representative, and ample information is provided on the Social Security web site, so you can complete the application process on your own.

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