When a Debilitating Mental Illness Is Preventing You From Working, You May Be Able to Collect Disability

Crumpled Up Mental Illness Strips of PaperAs many as 20 percent of American adults are living with some form of mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and one out of every 25 adults is coping with a serious disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. While many people are able to manage their condition and continue to work, it is not uncommon for sufferers to experience bouts of illness that prevent them from working. If you are in this situation, you may be able to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). We explain how people with mental illness can collect disability in Indiana.

Meeting Basic Requirements

Whatever illness or injury is preventing you from working—including a mental disorder—you must meet the Social Security Administration’s basic requirements for collecting SSDI. You must have an impairment that prevents you from working for at least 12 months, and you must have paid into the Social Security system for at least five of the last ten years. If you meet these basic criteria, the next step is to determine if your mental illness is considered a qualifying disorder by the SSA.

Special Requirements Related to Mental Illness

The SSA’s Listing of Impairments—also known as the Blue Book—includes a section for mental disorders which discusses the symptoms, severity, and duration of the illness required to qualify for disability benefits. In general, applicants must have a medically documented history of the disorder over a period of at least two years. The section is divided into 11 categories, including the following:

  1. Neurocognitive disorders. This category includes dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease as well as other illnesses. Sufferers must display a clinically significant decline in cognitive function to qualify for disability benefits.
  2. Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders. Characterized by delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, social withdrawal, and odd beliefs or mannerisms, the sufferer must display a significant decline in functioning.
  3. Depressive, bipolar, and other psychotic disorders. Symptoms of these types of disorders include feelings of hopelessness or guilt, suicidal ideation, sleep disturbances, an increase or decrease in energy, reduced impulse control, sadness, euphoria, and social withdrawal.
  4. Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. People who are plagued by excessive anxiety, worry, apprehension, and fear may cope by avoiding feelings, thoughts, activities, objects, places, or people, making it very difficult to hold down a job.
  5. Somatic symptom and related disorders. Characterized by physical symptoms or deficits that cannot be fully explained by a general medical condition, another mental disorder, a drug or medication, or other rational cause. If the symptoms are untreatable and interfere with normal functioning, the sufferer may apply for disability benefits.
  6. Personality and impulse-control disorders. These disorders are characterized by enduring, inflexible, maladaptive, and pervasive patterns of behavior and include paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, borderline, avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive personality disorders, and intermittent explosive disorder.
  7. Eating disorders. Disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and avoidant/restrictive food disorder can interfere with one’s ability to interact with others, understand and apply information, adapt and manage oneself, and more, making work very difficult.
  8. Trauma- and stressor-related disorders. When a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or stressful event, the psychological aftermath can have significant effects on functioning, reducing the ability to perform work functions.

Each type of disorder will be evaluated based on a specific set of criteria, but you must be able to show that you have participated in ongoing treatment and that, despite trying to control symptoms, you are unable to function in a work environment.

Our Disability Attorneys Can Help

It’s never easy to get a Social Security disability application approved—especially the first time—but claims of mental illness are particularly difficult to prove. You will need a clear diagnosis from a medical professional, an assessment of your ability to perform work tasks, evidence of your commitment to treatment, and more. Our Indianapolis attorneys understand what you are going through. We have experience helping those experiencing mental illness successfully apply for Social Security disability. Contact our office for the help you need today.


James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller