Schizoaffective disorder is a mental disorder in which individuals suffer from mood problems and a loss of contact with reality. This combination of psychosis and depression/mania can be cyclical, meaning that the symptoms can have periods where they are very present followed periods with little to no symptoms.
This disorder can be very disabling and may prevent an individual from being able to work. If you are unable to work due to this disorder, you may be eligible for Social Security disability, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Disabling Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder
Individuals who suffer from schizoaffective disorder can have a range of symptoms that can interfere with work. Symptoms can include:
illogical or disorganized speech
- rapid speech or speech that cannot be followed or understood by others
- paranoia in which you believe others are trying to harm you
- delusions that special messages are hidden in common places
- lack of concern with hygiene or grooming
- extremes in mood (either very good or very bad mood)
- sleep problems
- concentration issues
- difficulties with memory
- hallucinations, and
- social isolation.
Beyond the symptoms, individuals with schizoaffective disorder may also suffer from behavioral problems that can include:
- drug abuse
- difficulty following through with medication or treatment
- manic behavior (for example, binge eating or going on large spending sprees), and
- suicidal behavior.
How to Qualify for Disability Benefits
To qualify for SSDI and/or SSI, individuals must prove that they are disabled and unable to work, in one of three ways: by meeting the requirements of a disability listing, equaling the requirements of a listing, or proving they are unable to perform any job.
Meeting a Listing
To meet a listing, you must have an impairment that is listed in the Social Security “blue book” and that is of the level of severity stated in the listing. Social Security does not have a specific listing for schizoaffective disorder, but both the listing for schizophrenia (Listing 12.03) and affective disorder (Listing 12.04) may be met by someone with schizoaffective disorder, depending on their symptoms and the severity of those symptoms.
Schizophrenia listing. To qualify for the schizophrenia listing, individuals with schizoaffective disorder would likely meet the listing if they have one or more of the following symptoms at least on a regular intermittent basis:
- delusions or hallucinations
- illogical thinking or speech that lacks meaning with inappropriate affect, and/or
- emotional isolation.
That said, the above symptoms must cause at least two of the following:
- restrictions on activities of daily living (including dressing, household management, budgeting) that affect one's ability to function
- difficulties maintaining social functioning
- difficulties completing tasks in a timely manner, and/or
- repeated episodes of decompensation that last an extended amount of time.
Individuals may also meet this listing if they have suffered from psychosis from their schizoaffective disorder for at least two years, it has caused limitations at work despite symptoms being lessened by medication or treatment, and and they have one of the following:
- repeated episodes of decompensation that last an extended amount of time
- likelihood that a change in environment or mental demands would likely cause decompensation to occur, or
- inability to live outside a highly structured living environment for one year or more.
Affective disorders listing. Listing 12.04 for affective disorders is similar to the above listing. However, the symptoms that must occur and that affect one's functional ability include:
- Depressive mood with at least four of the following:
- changes in appetite that affect weight
- sleep disturbances
- decreased energy
- difficulty concentrating
- suicidal thoughts, and/or
- hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking
- Manic period with at least three of the following:
- rapid/pressured speech
- difficulty concentrating
- easily distracted
- decreased need for sleep, and/or
- hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking.
Equaling a Listing
To "equal a listing," an individual must have an impairment that is very close to an impairment listed in the Social Security “blue book” and that equals that listing in both severity and duration.
For those with schizoaffective disorder, if you cannot meet one of the above two listings, you may be able to equal one of the listings by proving that the combination of your impairments are equal in severity and duration to the impairment in the listing. You will likely need the help of a disability lawyer to argue this successfully.
For example, if you have only three of the four required symptoms for depressive mood under Listing 12.04, you may show that the three symptoms you have, when combined with the social isolationism that you suffer from due to the schizoaffective disorder, equal the listing for affective disorder.
Inability to Work
If you are unable to show that you exactly meet or equal the requirements of a listing, you may be able to qualify for disability benefits if you can prove your symptoms make you unable to work. For those with schizoaffective disorder, psychosis and mood problems may make it very difficult to function successfully in a work place. Individuals may have substantial difficulty working with others or responding properly to supervision. Paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions may make acting properly in a work place impossible. And the lack of concentration and memory problems could further affect their ability to complete tasks in a timely manner. Social Security will look at all of your mental limitations, as well as your age, education level, and work history, in determining your ability to work. For more information, see on our article on how Social Security evaluates mental limitations on the ability to work.