As lawyers practicing disability law, we field calls from people every day who are unable to work due to depression, panic attacks, and bi-polar disorder. Social Security regulations contain references to the level of depression and anxiety a person must have to be allowed disability. Symptoms such as: anhedonia (lack of interest in activities), sleep disturbance, appetite change, and an inability to be around strangers are part of the evaluation process.
Establishing the severity of these symptoms can be difficult; however, Social Security judges often have a difficult time determining the severity of depression. The law requires a medical condition be established by "objective standards." In a case where the claimant has a bad back or arthritic knees, x-rays and MRIs often demonstrate to the judge that complaints of pain are justified. There is no such test to determine the severity of depression. This means the judge must rely on treatment notes and observations from health care professionals and the treatment history.
Most commonly, treatment for depression and anxiety begins with the primary care physician, who prescribes medications based upon the complaints of his patients. Generally, Social Security judges do not consider that type of care as "treatment," since primary care physicians do not specialize in mental health conditions and do not determine severity of depression and anxiety. Current therapy notes with a therapist or psychiatrist are invaluable when we attempt to convince Social Security that a claimant is disabled. Additionally, treating therapists or psychiatrists can often provide a medical opinion which may help you prove the severity of your limitations.