• Matt Ritchie

Social Security and Mental Impairments


The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that the number of people with mental illness in the United States is in the tens of millions. With that many people affected by conditions like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, it should be no surprise that many Social Security claims hinge on the claimant's ability to prove that mental illness is the cause of their disability. However, proving a mental impairment can be tricky.


Here are two things you'll need to be ready to prove if you are making a claim for disability benefits based on a mental illness.


Diagnosis by Medical Professional. First and foremost, you're going to have to prove that you have been diagnosed with a mental illness that is recognized by mental health professionals. Although other conditions might be able to qualify, eleven conditions are specifically included in the Social Security "listings" - which normally offer the easiest way to qualify. Those eleven categories are:

- Neurocognitive disorders

- Schzophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders

- Depression, bipolar, and related disorders

- Intellectual disorders

- Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders

- Somatic symptoms and related disorders

- Personality and impulse-control disorders

- Autistic spectrum disorders

- Neurodevelopmental disorders

- Eating disorders

- Trauma and stressor-related disorders


This list does not include substance-related and addictive disorders for a reason: such conditions cannot form the basis for a finding of disability.


Evidence of Limitations. Once you have established that you have been diagnosed with one of the conditions listed by Social Security, you'll need to establish that these conditions are creating limitations in your day to day life that meet certain criteria established by Social Security. Specifically, Social Security will look at four areas:

1. The ability to understand, remember, and apply information

2. The ability to interact with others

3. The ability to concentrate, persist, or maintain pace

4. The ability to adapt or manage oneself


Each of these categories is rated on a scale of functional limitation ranging from none, to mild, to moderate, to marked, to extreme. Limitations that are mild or moderate are not considered to be sufficient to support a finding that someone is disabled. To demonstrate a marked limitation, you must be ready to prove that your ability to function on a sustained basis is "seriously limited." For an extreme limitation, you must show that you are not able to function at all on a sustained basis. It isn't enough to show that your mental illness creates a problem for you to function at work. There must be evidence that it creates serious limitations or that it is impossible.


The best way to secure support for these kinds of limitations is through psychiatrists and counselors. However, family and friends who can vouch for your limitations may also be helpful in these situations.


Making a claim based on a mental illness can be daunting. However, claimants successfully secure Social Security benefits every day based on the conditions listed above. Be sure to persist in your claim, and do everything you can to document your diagnosis and your limitations. And, of course, in a best-case situation, you should be represented by an attorney who practices Social Security law.

© 2017 Matthew Ritchie