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5 Reasons Why Regular Mental Health Treatment is Critical to a Disability Case

The Social Security Administration will consider any mental disorders when making a disability determination.  Sometimes, individuals were born with mental disorders. Others are the result of a specific trauma.  For example, someone can be considered disabled if IQ testing shows a very low score.  Likewise, someone can be considered disabled if a traumatic brain injury (TBI) makes that person unable to sustain the concentration and focus necessary to work.

Frequently, however, severe problems with mood and/or anxiety can develop over time, and can also leave an individual incapable of gainful employment.  Mood problems generally involve depression, manic behavior, or the combination of both that is seen in bipolar disorder.  Anxiety can be generalized or manifested with obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or various other specific phobias.  Many times, it can make a person unable to function outside the home.  Disability cases based on mood or anxiety disorders can present unique challenges. The best way to address these challenges is to participate in regular mental health treatment, which usually involves counseling and medication management.  Here are 5 reasons why:                       

1. Mental health cases can be very difficult for a judge to assess.  

If a case is based on a spinal disorder, a judge can look at an x-ray or MRI report to evaluate severity.  If someone has COPD, a judge can look at the results of a pulmonary function test.  A mental health evaluation generally does not involve any comparable testing.  While judges can consult with psychological experts, mental health analysis can be limited by a lack of information, especially when an individual is not engaged in regular mental health treatment.  This treatment generates the records which provide experts and judges with the information they need to form opinions and make decisions.                                         

2. If someone’s mood or anxiety disorders are so severe that they leave a person unable to work, judges expect that person to seek mental health treatment.

Certainly, getting this treatment can present difficulties.  Many people live in rural areas where treatment cannot be obtained without a long drive.  Even in urban areas, the availability of qualified professionals can be limited.  Furthermore, financial limitations and health insurance rules can further limit the extent to which someone can treat a mental health problem.  Judges will listen to testimony about these issues.  Nonetheless, it is always better to be engaged in regular treatment, as opposed to trying to explain a lack of treatment at a hearing.  

3. A failure to follow prescribed treatment can cause a claim to be denied.

Generally, judges are only inclined to approve a mental health claim when the person seeking disability is listening to the treating professionals.  If a mood or anxiety disorder is severe enough to make someone unable to work, mental health professionals would almost always recommend that such a person engage in consistent counseling and medication management.  If this is indeed recommended but someone does not comply, it can negatively impact a case, even when compliance is made difficult by financial or transportation issues.  Often, someone does not like a particular therapist or agree with a proposed course of treatment.  In this situation, it is best to seek a second opinion instead of abandoning treatment altogether.

4. Treatment can help people return to work.

The famous psychologist Carl Jung believed that mood and anxiety problems could sometimes actually be the way the unconscious mind prompts an individual to change and grow as a personality.  Working with a mental health professional could help foster this growth and put someone back in a position of being able to function in a work environment.  Of course, treatment isn’t always successful.  If records show someone seeking disability has clearly engaged in a good faith effort to work through his or her mental health concerns, but has been unable to recover to the extent that he or she can return to work, this can be very powerful evidence in a case.  On the other hand, if, after a lengthy course of treatment, someone does progress to the point that he or she can start working again, that person can still be approved for a closed period of past due benefits if the mental health disorder caused the person to be unable to work for longer than a year.

5. Mental health treatment can help those seeking disability benefits through difficult times.

A person who worked steadily for years and years will experience an abrupt disruption in routine when suddenly he or she is unable to work.  This can be disorienting.  Financial problems can cause additional stress.  Oftentimes, psychologists will diagnose people with an “adjustment disorder” if they are having difficulty coming to grips with a new reality.  Someone with severe problems with depression or anxiety can be more likely to have difficulty coping with the feelings of worthlessness and financial stressors associated with an inability to work.  Regular interaction with a mental health professional during this time can help a person cope with these problems.

Of course, the process of applying for disability benefits can be very stressful, also.  Having a trusted attorney by your side during this process can provide peace of mind and help reduce the emotional toll that the disability adjudication process can cause.  Perhaps even more importantly, a knowledgeable, experienced attorney can explain your impairments as persuasively as possible, and significantly increase your chances of being approved for benefits.  Please feel free to contact our Indiana Social Security Attorneys at Keller & Keller to discuss your case. 
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