Does Depression Qualify You for Social Security Disability?

Depression is an often misunderstood condition. It is much more than sadness or “feeling blue.” Depression can be a serious mental illness, and it affects millions of Americans. Its symptoms can interfere with the normal activities of daily living and make it impossible to be able to function in a work environment. Individuals with depression often have additional, co-occurring mental conditions and physical impairments.

If you believe your depression is affecting your ability to carry out your daily routine at home and at your job, talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend that you see a psychiatrist or mental health therapist, for an effective diagnosis and treatment of your illness. This is also important because if your condition does not improve enough with treatment to allow you to work, any potential application for Social Security disability will involve a thorough review of your mental health professional’s progress notes from your visits. Additionally, your claim for disability will be assisted by a detailed explanation of your condition by your healthcare provider, including how your symptoms have not improved enough to allow you to sustain work.

If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, you may be awarded Social Security disability benefits if you can prove—with solid medical evidence—that your impairment has lasted or is expected to last for 12 months or longer and it prevents you from sustaining full-time competitive employment on a consistent and reliable basis. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has two programs which may be able to offer financial assistance—Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for those who have worked in the past and made Social Security contributions, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) designed to help those with little or no income. Because the road to benefits can be difficult to navigate, it’s very helpful to hire an experienced local disability attorney to help through the process and present your case.

The SSA has a set of procedures in place to identify disabilities that are medically eligible for benefits. These procedures are published in a handbook known as the “Blue Book,” and it includes a long list of various disabling conditions known as “listings.”

The Blue Book has an impairment listing 12.04 which specifically addresses Depressive Disorder. In order to qualify, your condition “must be characterized by five or more of the following:

a. Depressed mood;

b. Diminished interest in almost all activities;

c. Appetite disturbance with change in weight;

d. Sleep disturbance;

e. Observable psychomotor agitation or retardation;

f. Decreased energy;

g. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;

h. Difficulty concentrating or thinking; or

i. Thoughts of death or suicide.


B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F):

1. Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1).

2. Interact with others (see 12.00E2).

3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3).

4. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4).”

Alternatively, you might be able to qualify without fulfilling the above requirements if “your mental disorder in this listing category is ‘serious and persistent;’ that is, you have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both:

1. Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder (see 12.00G2b); and

2. Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life (see 12.00G2c).”

If you don’t have medical evidence that meets the requirements of a Blue Book listing, there is another way to be approved for benefits. The agency will assess your “residual functional capacity,” or RFC, to determine if there’s any type of work you’re able to perform given the limitations caused by your condition. If the SSA determines that you’re unable to do any work—including types of jobs you may have held in the past—you may still be approved based upon your age, education, and work experience. Social Security will make this determination based on whether you can sustain competitive employment on a consistent, full-time basis, or an equivalent schedule.

At Nash Disability Law, we have successfully represented thousands of individual disability applicants with depression. So, what is the key to winning cases based on depression? Frequent treatment with a psychiatrist and therapist, and specific documentation about your symptoms. We so often see cases where a client has medical records from a psychiatrist, but they say things like “stable” or “feels fine.” However, when we talk with them, they report much more severe symptoms, like those listed above Don’t presume your doctor or therapist knows this and is writing it down. Report your symptoms at each visit so that your depression is properly treated and documented.

Winning disability benefits for depression can be a confusing, frustrating, and tough process. If you or someone you care about is coping with depression and unable to work, call or email us at Nash Disability Law for a free evaluation of your situation. We are local disability attorneys with offices in Chicago, Elgin, and Palos Hills. We can help you avoid costly disability mistakes.