Depression, a clinical mood disorder, is one of the most common mental disorders in the country. It affects about six percent of the adult population or just over 16 million people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Depression can affect every aspect of a person’s life from his/her family relationships to his/her career. When a person’s depression prohibits him/her from working and treatment does not help, she might be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

For more information about Social Security disability for depression in Raleigh, call Lunn and Forro, PLLC at 888-966-6566 to speak to one of our disability lawyers, free of charge.

 Does the SSA consider depression as a qualifying disability? 

To be eligible for benefits, you must meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disabled. There are two ways to do this, the first of which is to meet the criteria under a listing in the SSA’s Blue Book. Mental disorders are in Section 12 of the book; listing 12.04 covers various affective disorders like depression.

If you meet the criteria under a listing, the SSA will likely deem you disabled.

In order for your depression to be listing-level, you must have serious difficulty (i.e., extreme limitation of one, or a marked limitation of two of the following) with:

  • Understanding, recalling, and applying information;
  • Social functioning;
  • Focusing and maintaining pace; or
  • Managing or adapting.

You must also have medical documentation of five or more of the following:

  • “Depressed mood
  • Diminished interest in almost all activities
  • Appetite disturbance and a change in weight
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Observable psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt/worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Thoughts of death/suicide”

If you do not have five or more of the above symptoms, you may qualify if:

  • Your depression is “serious and persistent” (i.e., you have documented medical proof that it has lasted at least two years) and you have evidence of ongoing medical or mental health treatment, support, or a highly structured setting that “diminishes the symptoms and signs” of your depression, and
  • You are unable to adapt to environmental changes or unexpected demands.

Of course, if your depression has led to other health conditions, such as obesity, substance abuse disorder, or heart disease, you can also qualify as disabled under those respective listings.

Can I still collect disability if I do not meet the listing for depression?

Yes. The second way you can meet the SSA’s definition of disability is by proving that your condition, symptoms, and any secondary conditions are so impairing that you cannot work.

Here is how it works. When the SSA receives a disability claim from someone who has a disability that is not in the Blue Book or that does not meet a listing’s specifications, the claims adjuster will review the applicant’s residual functional capacity or RFC.

Your primary mental health physician will fill out a mental RFC form that rates your ability to perform basic mental functions, such as the ability to understand directions, concentrate for long periods of time, work with others, and respond appropriately to changes in the work environment. This assessment will indicate what types of limitations you have that prevent you from working.

The claims examiner will review your RFC form and assign you with a rating. S/he will take your rating, age, education level, and work history into consideration when determining whether you can work or adjust to new work. If, all things considered, s/he finds that your condition prevents you from working, the SSA may grant you disability based on a medical vocational allowance.

How do I prove my disability to the SSA?

The SSA requires that your condition be verifiably, medically documented in order to obtain benefits. You will need sufficient records from mental health specialists and other providers to prove your diagnosis and the extent of your depression.

The SSA explains, “We must establish the existence of a medically determinable impairment(s) of the required duration by medical evidence consisting of symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings (including psychological test findings).”

Gather copies of all your medical and psychological records from your care providers. The SSA will want to see evidence from approved sources, such as:

  • Depression screenings
  • Blood work
  • Physician evaluations
  • Family history of mental illness
  • The doctor’s notes about your self-reported symptoms and your clinical signs of depression
  • Records of the treatments you have tried and how you responded to them
  • Your prognosis

The number one reason for Social Security disability denials is a lack of sufficient medical evidence.  For this reason, you must gather as much evidence as possible to prove your condition limits your ability to work.

What other criteria are necessary to win disability benefits?

To collect disability benefits, your depression must either be listing-level or you must have received a medical vocational allowance; your condition must have lasted, or be expected, to last a year or longer; and you must incapable of engaging in substantial gainful activity (which means earn more than $1,170/month).

There are also work history or financial requirements you must meet.

  • SSDI: Disabled workers applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits must have a certain number of earned work credits, depending on their age.
  • SSI: Those applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a benefit for blind persons, disabled children, and disabled adults with limited resources, must have a limited income and less than $2,000 in assets.

What do I do if the SSA denied my disability claim based on depression?

You have a right to challenge the SSA’s decision about your benefits if you do not agree with it. If the SSA recently rejected your application for benefits, call Lunn and Forro, PLLC for immediate assistance. We will review your case, determine why the SSA denied your claim, and then begin taking the appropriate steps to appeal your denial.

Before requesting that the SSA reconsider its decision, we will gather additional supportive evidence to strengthen your case. For example, we might speak to mental health specialists about your condition, and gather letters from people who can testify about how impairing your depression is.

For help with an appeal or for general assistance with disability benefits for depression, contact one of our disability lawyers today for a free, no-obligation consultation in Raleigh: 888-966-6566.