Why do mental conditions present special obstacles in getting approved for Social Security disability? The following describe several issues that often cause a disability claim for mental illness to be denied.
Poor treatment notes. One problem is the fact that many mental health treatment specialists keep relatively poor notes. In fact, many doctors will write and send in a synopsis of their notes to Social Security (either to the disability claims examiner or the disability judge) because the notes from office visits provide scant detail and are not helpful to a case.
No record of mental treatment. Sometimes disability claimants have no record of mental health treatment for the condition listed on the disability application. This tends to happen with cases involving depression. Often, a claimant whose family doctor has prescribed an anti-depressant but who has never been seen by a psychiatrist. This means that the claimant will have no substantial mental treatment records to present for their claim.
Noncompliance with prescribed medications. In some instances, the medical records will show that a claimant has been diagnosed with a specific mental impairment and has been prescribed medication, but has not taken the medication. This is a huge problem for mental disability cases because the Social Security Administration (SSA) focuses on what a claimant is able to do despite the limitations of their condition. A claimant's limitations cannot be accurately measured if the patient is not taking the medications as prescribed.
Why is medication compliance an issue for some claimants? Sometimes, it's due to the cost of medication. Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration is not usually concerned with whether or not a claimant can afford their medication, but, simply, whether or not they take their medication. But if you can't afford the medications, do inform the SSA if this is the reason that you don't take your medication. By law this should be an acceptable nonmedical excuse for failing to take medication. If the SSA can find free medication for you, however, this will no longer be an excuse. For more information, see our article on failing to following the prescribed treatment.
Lack of duration. Some Social Security disability and SSI disability claims are denied on the basis of duration, meaning that a disability examiner or disability judge has concluded that the applicant's condition has not lasted for a year or isn't expected to last for a year. This is problematic for a claim that has a tendency to exacerbate and get better with regularity, whether the claim is based on a mental condition, like bipolar disorder, or a physical condition, such as lupus. For more information, see our explanation of episodes of decompensation.
Learn more about getting disability for mental health problems.