Emotional Wellbeing

Mandy Kloppers

Can You Get Disability Benefits with a Mental Health Disorder?

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are federal programs that assist individuals with disabilities. Social Security and Supplement Security Income programs are two separate but similar programs.  

Social Security Disability insurance pays benefits to individuals who are insured and certain members of their family. Insured means you worked enough and paid Social Security taxes during that time so you can qualify.  

Supplemental Security Income pays benefits based on financial need. 

There may be millions of people who qualify for short or long-term disability because of depression or PTSD.  

One in five adults deal with the symptoms of mental illness each year, and that number may be even higher as a result of the coronavirus and civil unrest.  

Everyone who deals with a mental health disorder may be entitled to not only protection under the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act but also other benefits.  

The following are key things to know about disability benefits and mental health disorders.  


To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI), you must be impaired to the point that it keeps you from being able to work for at least 12 months. You also would need to have worked and paid into Social security for five of the last ten years.  

The amount of SSDI a person receives is related to the amount of taxes already paid into the system over their working years.  

If you have a spouse or children in high school or younger, they may also receive SSDI benefits from your account.  

With Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you must have an impairment preventing you from working for a sustained period of time. You also must have low income and few assets. You can’t have more than $2,000 in assets to qualify. If you’re married, your spouse similarly has to have low income and assets. As a couple, you can’t have more than $3,000 in assets.  

Mental Disorders and Social Security Disability 

The Social Security Administration uses something called the Blue Book. This establishes the parameters for conditions to qualify someone for Social Security disability benefits.  

In chapter 12 of the book, there are details on mental health disorders that may qualify a claimant for benefits.  

The categories of mental disorders in the Blue Book are: 

  • Anxiety disorders 
  • Affective disorders 
  • Autism and similar disorders 
  • Mental retardation 
  • Organic mental disorders 
  • Personality disorders 
  • Schizophrenia and psychotic disorders  
  • Somatoform disorders 
  • Substance addiction 

Each of the above disorders has a set of qualification criteria. You have to be able to show that your condition meets the criteria and that the symptoms prevent you from being employed.  

You also have to show that you’re getting treatment and complying with it.  

Anxiety Disorders 

Anxiety disorders which may include post-traumatic stress disorder must be accompanied by symptoms including: 

  • Ongoing, irrational fear 
  • Persistent anxiety with symptoms 
  • Recurring panic attacks happening at least weekly 
  • Ongoing compulsions and obsessions 

The Claims Process 

While you may qualify for benefits under SSDI, it can be challenging if your condition is related to mental health. Your claim won’t be reviewed by a mental health professional, and the person reviewing your claim may not know much about your condition and symptoms.  

That’s why it’s important to include as much evidence as you can with your claim.  

It can take three to five months to receive a claims decision, and if you are approved, you may start to receive benefits immediately. You will also receive retroactive benefits which are based on the date your claim was filed and possibly also the date that your disability began or the date of onset.  

Most claims are denied, so be prepared for that going into the process. With that being said, most people also file an appeal.  

When you file an appeal, you may opt for a hearing with an administrative judge. These judges often do award benefits to applicants who were denied. A Social Security disability benefits attorney can help you through the process, and it can take around 22 months to get a hearing.  

The takeaway is that yes, in many cases, a mental health disorder may qualify you for federal benefits including disability benefits. With that being said, the application process is lengthy and you should be prepared for that.  

If your claim has been denied, it may be beneficial to work with a lawyer or someone who has experience navigating the appeals process successfully and effectively.  

Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

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