Social Security Disability: Understanding mental illness and disability

When people in Macomb County think about someone who is disabled, the picture that generally comes to mind is someone who is unable to walk or perhaps someone that struggles mentally with learning. Few people would likely consider someone with a mental disorder as being disabled but it is possible for a mental illness to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.

Mental illness in the U.S.

The National Institute of Mental Health states that mental health disorders are diagnosed in one out of every four Americans every year. It is also not uncommon for someone diagnosed with a mental disorder to have more than one disorder. For example, someone with anxiety may also suffer with a bi-polar disorder, depression, or a suicidal disorder.

Six percent of those who struggle with a mental illness are diagnosed with a severe disorder. These disorders include:

  • Schizophrenia - people with this illness tend to be extremely paranoid, have incoherent speech and often hear voices in their mind.
  • Panic disorder - this illness has no known cause but people who struggle with a panic disorder often feel that they are losing control, that they are in danger when there is no apparent threat and even feel as if they are having a heart attack.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - while often associated with soldiers returning from a war zone, this disorder can also occur to people exposed to a violent crime or natural event. People who suffer with this disorder may have nightmares over the event, feel edgy, struggle with anger management and even be devoid of emotion.
  • Agoraphobia - A phobia is defined as an intense fear and people with this disorder are often terrified of being in a place that they cannot easily escape from. Some people are unable to leave their home because of their disorder.
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder - People with this disorder are unable to have empathy for other people. They often have no regard for laws and act on impulse to gratify their own desires, putting themselves and others at risk.

When disorders are severe, people may be unable to maintain a normal lifestyle. A mental health disorder can be extremely debilitating, preventing people from seeking an education, holding down a job and even entering into a relationship with others.

Applying for Social Security Disability

To qualify for SSDI, mental health conditions must be confirmed by a qualified doctor and evidence should include documentation of the person's symptoms, any lab results from testing and psychological testing. A person must also be able to show that their mental illness limits them in their day-to-day life to the specifications set by Social Security.

The evaluation process looks at how someone interacts with others in a social setting, how they care for themselves, their ability to perform regular tasks like grocery shopping or going to the bank and their functionality level in a workplace setting. The more documentation that a person is able to show the more likely their application will be approved. However, the application process takes time and a person should be persistent in seeking benefits. Therefore people should enlist the help of a qualified attorney who can explain to them how SSDI works and the claims and appeals process.