What Mental Health Symptoms Get You Approved for Social Security Disability or SSI?

Social Security focuses on an individual’'s functional capacity to work rather than specific symptoms.

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There are no specific mental health symptoms that guarantee a disability approval based upon a mental impairment. Social Security views mental impairments in much the same way as they do physical impairments, meaning that Social Security focuses on an individual’'s functional capacity to work in spite of his or her limitations, rather than his or her specific impairments or diagnoses. 

Functional Capacity

Social Security uses a variety of information to evaluate mental impairments, including medical evidence and information about the applicant's activities of daily living and ability to function in social settings and work environments. Social Security will evaluate the applicant's ’ability to cook, shop, pay bills, take care of personal hygiene, and do household chores and other activities associated with every day life. Social Security uses social functioning as another indicator of the severity of an individual'’s mental impairment. Social Security will evaluate the applicant's ability to interact with the public, family, friends, neighbor, and others in order to determine if he or she is able to function independently, appropriately, and effectively with others, as social functioning is important within workplace environments. If an individual is unable to interact appropriately with others, his or her ability to sustain gainful employment is significantly impaired. For information on how Social Security evaluates functional capacity for mental disorders, see our article on mental functional capacity and disability

Listed Mental Impairments

Social Security does have a disability handbook known as the “blue book” (formally, the Disability Evaluation Under Social Security Handbook), which contains criteria for various mental disorders to be considered disabilities, such as organic mental disorders, schizophrenia, mental retardation, anxiety-related disorders, somatoform disorders, affective disorders (which include depression and bipolar disorder), substance addiction disorders, and autism and other pervasive developmental disorders. If an applicant's condition meets the requirements of one of these disorders, he or she will automatically be granted disability benefits. However, the listings in the blue book for mental disorders all require that the applicant's mental health symptoms have been shown to limit the applicant's activities of daily living or ability to function socially or to complete tasks. So even if an applicant has been diagnosed with a severe mental illness and displays serious mental health symptoms, unless the symptoms make it difficult to do routine tasks and get along with others, he or she won't be granted disability. See our section on disability for mental health disorders for an explanation of each of the mental and emotional disability listings.

Updated by: , J.D.

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