Mental Illness and Social Security Law

Some people think that if they have a diagnosis such as “depression” or “schizophrenia,” the Social Security Administration will automatically grant benefits. That is not true. You can’t get benefits just because you have a label like “schizophrenia.” First, you have to prove that your illness is severe enough to stop you from working.

There are nine categories that the SSA uses to assess mental disorders and approve or deny benefits. If your ability to work is impeded by one of the following disorders, you may be eligible to apply for benefits:

  1. Organic Mental Disorders – Characterized by mental and behavioral dysfunction, stemming from an organic factor, that is repetitive and/or a deteriorating condition. Specifically, these disorders cause changes or corrosion of normal cognitive function.
  2. Schizophrenic, Paranoid, and Other Psychotic Disorders – Typically marked by psychotic episodes, including hallucinations, incoherence, or emotional withdrawal.
  3. Affective Disorders – Conditions with marked mood disturbances. Mood disturbances could be manifested as depressive or manic episodes, or a combination of the two.
  4. Mental Retardation – Stunted developmental or intellectual growth, characterized by the inability to care for themselves or otherwise function independently.
  5. Anxiety-Related Disorders – Manifestations of anxieties, usually including issues like intense phobias, panic attacks, obsessions, and compulsions.
  6. Somatoform Disorders – Disorders for which no physical cause can be found, but that persistently hinder the ability for the sufferer to lead a normal life. Symptoms may present themselves or may be perceived by the sufferer.
  7. Personality Disorders – Marked by personality traits that resist adaptation. Traits can be mood disturbances, thought processes, or other traits like hostility, paranoia, or dependence. The disorder must not be limited to infrequent episodes, but a long-term impediment in the individual’s life.
  8. Substance Addiction Disorders – Affectations or changes stemming from substance abuse or addiction.
  9. Autistic Disorder or Other Developmental Disorders – Marked by impaired development, usually in the realms of communication, imagination, and social interaction.

There are four main areas of functioning that are considered by the Social Security judge in deciding whether your illness is severe enough to prevent you from working: (a) daily living, (b) social functioning, (c) concentration, and (d) decompensation.

If you have bipolar disorder, major depression, phobias, agoraphobia, Tourette Syndrome, obsessions, compulsions, or panic attacks, you must prove that you have problems in at least two of the four areas of functioning.

If you have somatoform disorder or a personality disorder, Social Security requires you to have serious problems in three of the four areas.

A psychiatrist or psychologist is the best type of doctor to write a report about your disability. A family practitioner is okay, but a specialist is better. Your psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist should be helping you with your Social Security claim by writing a suitable letter explaining your symptoms and behaviors, in detail.

If your physician has diagnosed you with one of the above mental disorders, be sure to incorporate that evidence into your claim. It is critical that you include with your claim any documentation that you have regarding your disorder, as well as any other symptoms or disorders from which you suffer. To receive Social Security benefits, your illness or disorder must be interfering with your ability to function in your current or prior jobs, or your ability to hold down any other gainful employment.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness , you might be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. Call us today at 1-866-540-0677 to help you file for Social Security Disability benefits if you suffer from a mental illness. If you are in Macomb County, Oakland County, Wayne County or anywere else in Michigan and need help with your Social Security Disability case, contact our office at