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How Someone With A Mental Health Condition Can Qualify For Social Security Disability Benefits

If you have a mental health condition that limits your ability to perform routine daily tasks and keeps you from performing work to earn a living, you may qualify for disability benefits administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA has two disability programs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Both programs have strict medical requirements for a claim to be approved. 


SSDI is a disability program based off your work history. You must have earned enough credits and paid in enough taxes to qualify for benefits. For most people, you must have worked the equivalent of 5 years full-time out of the last 10 years. SSI does not depend on work history, and just so long as you meet the financial criteria, which involve resources and income, you can be approved. You will need to provide supporting documentation for both. 

Medically Qualifying for Disability Benefits 

The SSA uses a medical guide, which is called the Blue Book, to determine if a claimant qualifies for disability benefits. There is a section in the Blue Book for mental disorders, and it has listings for a variety of conditions, including anxiety-related conditions, psychotic disorders, learning disabilities, depression, and many other mental health issues. Each listing has specific criteria that must be met for the claimant to medically qualify per that specific listing. 

You will need to provide medical evidence that confirms your condition meets the criteria of that listing. Your medical records should contain detailed physician notes, a confirmation of your diagnosis, treatment records, and how your condition limits or restricts you. However, if you cannot meet the specific criteria of a listing, you may still qualify for disability benefits through a medical vocational allowance. 

Using A Medical Vocational Allowance 

If you are unable to work and earn a living, but you cannot meet the criteria of listing in the Blue Book to medically qualify, you may still be approved using a medical vocational allowance. This approach takes your age, work history, transferrable skills, educational background, and medical condition all into consideration. A residual functional capacity (RFC) form completed by your physician can be the key to a successful disability claim.

The RFC is a detailed form. It will indicate if you are unable to focus, cannot work well with others, have communication difficulties, are unable to complete a task, and so forth. It details everything that you can and cannot do, so the disability examiner will get a clear picture of whether you are able to work, and if you can work, what kind of work you can do. An RFC from your treating physician, such as your psychiatrist or psychologist, can be essential to having your claim approved. 

Applying For Disability Benefits 

To start the disability application process, visit the SSA’s website. You can call 1-800-772-1213 and speak with a representative. You also have the option of applying in person at an SSA office if you choose to do so.  Be sure to have a detailed list of your healthcare providers and their contact information. After you send in your initial application, it should take the SSA between 3-5 months to award an initial decision regarding your claim.

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