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What mental illnesses qualify someone for Social Security disability?


The Blue Book, Social Security's manual for evaluating disability claims, lists 11 types of what it calls "mental disorders" among the conditions that medically qualify adults to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

It's important to note that not all are generally considered mental illnesses. The Blue Book list includes autism, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and decreased mental function with a medical cause such as dementia. Neither the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness identifies these as mental health conditions, although they can have significant effects on mental health, and diagnoses of depression or another mental illness often accompany them.

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Seven of the Blue Book categories of mental disorders group conditions more directly associated with mental illness:

  • Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders characterized by delusions, hallucinations, or extremely disorganized or catatonic behavior
  • Depressive and bipolar disorders characterized by irritation, mood swings or loss of interest in or pleasure from most activities
  • Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders associated with excessive worry, apprehension and fear or avoidance of feelings, thoughts, activities, objects, places or people
  • Somatic symptom and related disorders characterized by physical symptoms that are not intentionally feigned but cannot be explained because of a diagnosed medical condition or other physical cause
  • Personality and impulse-control disorders, typically appearing in adolescence or young adulthood and marked by signs such as paranoia, social detachment, hypersensitivity to criticism, perfectionism or explosive anger
  • Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions related to experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or deeply distressing event

As with the numerous categories of physical illness and injury covered in the Blue Book, the listings for mental and cognitive disorders detail the criteria Social Security uses to determine if your condition meets its definition of disability — an impairment that prevents you from working for at least 12 months or likely will result in death.

For mental disorders, that evaluation can include a review of medical records, treatment history and other evidence from you, your health care providers and, with your permission, people you know such as friends, family or employers. It also takes into account how available services, support and treatment could affect your ability to function.

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Based on that evidence, Social Security assesses how your condition affects your mental function in areas that matter in a work setting, such as your ability to understand, remember and apply information; interact with others; concentrate on tasks and perform them at a consistent pace; and manage your emotions and behavior. For a disability claim to be approved, your limitation must be rated “extreme” in at least one of those areas or as “marked” in at least two.

Keep in mind

For some mental disorders, including schizophrenia, depression and PTSD, a finding that your condition is “serious and persistent” — meaning you can medically document that it has existed for at least two years — can be considered instead of the limitation ratings described above.

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