Whether it’s a stand-alone condition or the secondary consequence of a physical injury, mental health issues can also qualify you for Social Security Disability. If you are unable to work because of a mental health condition and have demonstrable, chronic symptoms, you may be able to file an application. Although mental health issues are no less debilitating, they are often more difficult to prove. It’s important to realize that most claim examiners do not have a mental health background and therefore may not fully grasp the obstacles imposed by your illness. Your best course of action is to be prepared and find a qualified ssdi attorney or advocate to help you navigate this difficult process.
What are the eligibility requirements?
- You need to show that the mental disorder (or medication necessary to treat that disorder) severely prevents normal day-to-day functioning to the extent that finding and keeping gainful employment is impossible. According to Social Security Administration (SSA) definitions, a disability of any kind must prevent you from working for a period of at least 12 months. However, there is an exception for cyclical illnesses such as bipolar disorder. In those cases, you will need to document suffering at least three episodes per year lasting at least two weeks each.
- You must be able to prove that you’ve tried to find work in the past, either by yourself or through a community mental health program. While the SSA has no “minimum” number of required employment attempts, you still have a greater chance of receiving benefits if you’ve been consistently incapable of holding a job.
- You must be able to provide thorough documentation of your medical history for at least 12 months prior your file date, including a clear diagnosis from your psychiatrist or psychologist. Treatment notes from your psychiatrist or psychologist are often the most important source of evidence. If your provider has not taken detailed notes, they can also be the most troublesome. Your treatment notes should include your symptoms and diagnosis, treatment plan, prognosis and the history of your treatment, including the medications you’ve been prescribed and how you’ve responded to them. In an ideal world, these notes will also contain specific examples of how your functioning is impaired by your illness. When these necessary details are not included in your notes, it’s helpful to ask your doctor to fill out a Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC) Form, which specifically lists the tasks you can and cannot perform.
The typical SSDI application takes between 3-6 months to process, and about ⅔ of applicants are denied after their first attempt. If you are denied, you have a 60-day window to appeal your case. Although the appeal process can be daunting, having an experienced attorney that knows Social Security Disability law can be an incredible asset in helping you get the benefits you need.