Does Mental Health Qualify For Disability Income?

Questions and Answers About Applying for Disability Tax Benefits
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Typically, we associate the word “disability” with a physical condition that has visible symptoms. But if you or a loved one has experienced or is experiencing a mental disorder with severe symptoms, you know how debilitating it can be.

A mental disorder can be just as difficult to live with as a physical impairment and can prevent you from engaging in work-related activity. If you have a mental disorder that makes it difficult to work, you may be eligible for disability benefits.

One thing to keep in mind as you begin to apply for disability benefits is that Social Security has a very specific definition of disability.

There are five essential questions that Social Security uses to determine whether a medical condition meets their definition. We have a great article on that topic right here.

If you would rather have a case evaluation specialist work with you to determine your eligibility for disability benefits, consider taking our 1-minute survey for a free online disability case evaluation here at For more information specific to mental disorders, keep reading.

What Kinds of Mental Disorders Does Social Security Recognize as Disabilities?

There are 11 categories of mental disorders that Social Security recognizes as potentially disabling. These are:

  • Neurocognitive disorders
  • Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders
  • Depressive, bipolar, and related disorders (e.g. mood disorders)
  • Intellectual disorders
  • Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Somatic symptom and related disorders
  • Personality and impulse-control disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorder (including Asperger’s syndrome)
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Trauma- and stressor-related disorders (such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

In order for Social Security to consider your condition a disability, your condition must fall into one of these 11 categories.

If your particular mental disorder doesn’t fall under any of the listed categories, don’t be discouraged. There is an extra step involved, but Social Security provides a couple of options for those with rare or otherwise unlisted conditions.

You can read more about those options in our article “Disability Benefits Assistance: The One Basic Question You Need to Answer”

“Is Your Condition Found in the List of Disabling Conditions?

There are 14 categories that the SSA recognizes as areas in which someone can have a disability. For each of the categories, there is a list of medical conditions that are considered severe enough to prevent you from engaging in SGA.

If your condition is not on the list, not to worry. There is an extra step, but you could still qualify for disability benefits!

In a case where someone’s medical condition isn’t already listed, the SSA needs to decide if the condition is as severe as those listed.  They would need to process a new disability claim for you.

There are two options for expediting the process:

The first option is Compassionate Allowances (CAL). This initiative was designed to quickly identify conditions that meet the Social Security’s standards for disability benefits. The types of conditions that Compassionate Allowances was made for include rare cancers and disorders that may not be listed in the 14 categories.

The CAL initiative is meant to reduce wait times for those with severe disabilities. However, the same rules apply to evaluate CAL conditions for both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Social Security Income (SSI).

The second option is Quick Disability Determinations (QDD).  This option screens initial applications to quickly identify cases where “a favorable disability determination is highly likely and medical evidence is readily available.”

This helps Social Security to prioritize and expedite processing.”

If your mental disorder does fit one of the 11 categories, you then need to determine how much your condition is impacting your ability to work.

Does Your Medical Condition Prevent You from Working Enough?

One of the things that Social Security heavily considers for your disability application is whether your condition prevents you from engaging in substantial gainful activity or SGA. Basically, they want to know if your mental disorder prevents you from working enough to cover basic living expenses, like rent/mortgage, healthcare costs, and groceries.

You can still be working without being considered as engaging in SGA.

This is really important to understand because our ability to engage in some work, even if it isn’t covering all our bills, can be essential to our sense of dignity and self-esteem. You do not necessarily need to be unemployed in order to be eligible for disability benefits.

Social Security’s disability benefits programs are there to help people who can’t pay for living expenses because of their medical condition. If your mental disorder is making it difficult for you to cover your basic needs, then you most likely qualify for disability benefits.

This is especially true if your condition causes a limitation in the following areas of mental functioning:

  1. Understanding, remembering, and/or applying information
  2. Interacting with others
  3. Concentrating, persisting in a task, or maintaining pace in a task
  4. Adapting to normal stressors or managing yourself

In cases where you have historically been unable to engage in SGA, you may have a hard time applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). However, in such a case, you are most likely eligible to apply for disability income or Social Security Income (SSI), especially if you have little income and resources.

If you aren’t sure what the difference is between SSDI and SSI, we have an article unpacking what those two types of benefits are and how they differ from each other here.

For a mental disorder that is episodic in nature, such as bipolar disorder, where you experience periods of wellness in which you can work full-time as well as periods in which you are symptomatic and unable to work, you may still be eligible to receive disability.

In this case, your mental disorder must have a medically documented history over a period of two or more years that shows you’ve been receiving treatment and still have “minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life.”

For those with bipolar disorder and similar episodic disorders, this can mean you are able to work until, for example, a big life event like a child’s birth or a death in the family occurs.  When such life transitions trigger your symptoms and you’re unable to work, disability benefits can really help take some financial pressure off your situation.

If you’re unsure whether your work situation disqualifies you from being approved to receive disability benefits, you may benefit from an online disability case evaluation. With the help of a legal professional, you’ll be better able to determine your eligibility.

Have You Obtained a Diagnosis and Medical Treatment?

Social Security requires lots of relevant medical documentation for your mental disorder if you are applying for disability benefits. They need substantial evidence supporting your claim that you are unable to work because of your medical condition.

If you suspect you or a loved one has a mental disorder and wish to claim disability benefits, it is crucial that you obtain an official diagnosis from a qualified medical professional and seek medical help for the mental disorder if you have not already.

Medical documentation of symptoms as well as determining the ways in which those symptoms limit your mental functioning is absolutely necessary for build a disability benefits case.

In addition, for your mental disorder to be considered “serious and persistent” by Social Security, you must be able to show evidence of both:

  1. Ongoing “medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s)” that significantly helps to alleviate symptoms
  2. Marginal adjustment. In other words, you have a very difficult time adjusting to changes in the environment and unexpected demands of life in spite of ongoing treatment.

Unfortunately, if your mental disorder has not been medically documented and/or you have not sought professional help to treat it, Social Security has grounds to deny your disability claim application.

Even if you have plenty of medical documentation for your mental disorder, it can be difficult to figure out what is and is not relevant to your disability claim application. In that case, it would be best to seek disability benefits assistance from legal professionals.

Do You Have Someone to Help You Apply?

The disability claim application involves gathering a lot of information about your identity, medical condition, and work history. It requires you to build a compelling case for why you deserve disability benefits.

When you have a mental disorder, feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and confusion can accompany your attempts to apply for disability benefits or even simply determine whether you are eligible. Even for a healthy loved one trying to help you, the application process can be very intimidating.

Trying to fill out the application can seem like a daunting and even impossible task. You may find yourself asking whether the process is worth the effort.

We want to reassure you that whatever efforts you make to improve your situation are worthwhile and that you don’t have to go through the application process alone.

At, we can connect you to a legal professional who will provide you with a free disability benefits case evaluation. A case evaluation specialist can ask you questions that will help quickly determine whether you are eligible to receive disability benefits.

Once you and your case evaluation specialist have assessed your eligibility to receive disability benefits, you can hire them to assist you with your application if you so choose.

Our legal professionals are trained to build disability cases that lead to favorable decisions from Social Security. By hiring a disability benefits attorney from our team, you are increasing the probability that your disability claim application will be approved.

All you need to do to get a free online disability case evaluation is to take this 1-minute survey and provide contact information for yourself. We’ll do the rest.

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