Is a Diagnosis of Schizophrenia Enough to Qualify for Social Security Disability?

April 19, 2017

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others.” Many with schizophrenia see things that are not there or hear voices that are not there. Others have symptoms of paranoia, where they are convinced, for example, that others are staring at them or talking about them. NAMI estimates that more than 3 million Americans have this illness. A complex, long-term medical condition, schizophrenia has three main types: paranoid, disorganized, and catatonic.

The Social Security Administration maintains a list of conditions with detailed requirements for when the SSA should judge a mental or physical condition to be disabling. If an individual matches the requirements in the listings (also called the “Blue Book”) they automatically qualify for disability payments. Listings can be complicated. To meet the requirements of the listing for schizophrenia an individual must meet specific medical criteria, and have an extreme limitation in one of following areas of mental functioning, or a marked limitation in two or more:

  • The ability to understand, remember or apply information;
  • The ability to interact with others;
  • The ability to concentrate, persist or maintain pace; or
  • The ability to adapt or manage oneself.

Most individuals with mental health impairments don’t match up exactly to the Social Security’s listings, and therefore do not automatically qualify for benefits. Nevertheless, they can qualify for benefits by proving they are not able to sustain work activity due to the symptoms of their illness. For example, a person with schizophrenia may win benefits if they are able to prove that their symptoms prevent them from working. However, a diagnosis of schizophrenia is not enough, on its own, to qualify an individual for Social Security disability benefits. To qualify, a person must demonstrate that their symptoms persist despite treatment (often medications), and prevent them from sustaining full-time competitive employment on a consistent and reliable basis.

Many individuals with schizophrenia are turned down on their initial disability application, but most of those who appeal and obtain legal representation are successful in earning disability benefits.

For a free evaluation of your case call the Chicago Social Security Disability Attorneys at Nash Disability Law.