Which Types of Depression Qualify for Disability?

Major depression and severe bipolar disorder can sometimes qualify you for Social Security disability benefits.

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Depression is a condition that is often not taken seriously enough because people do not understand the difference between having an occasional bout of "the blues," which is natural and temporary, and having a major depressive disorder (MDD). MDDs are ongoing and stem from a biochemical imbalance in the brain. They can't be shrugged off with positive thinking, nor are they a sign of an individual's weakness.

Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder

Symptoms of a major depressive disorder, commonly called major depression or clinical depression, vary among individuals. However, most people find that the symptoms sap their ability and desire to take part in daily living activities, even those they once most enjoyed. Feelings of fatigue and apathy, lack of sleep, an inability to concentrate, constant sadness, irritability, and feelings of worthlessness, or even thoughts of suicide, are common among depressed individuals. Psychiatrists often use the terms mild, moderate, and severe to describe the severity of the depression.

Three Types of Depression

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), on which Social Security bases its disability listings, describes three distinct depressive disorders that can be debilitating and interfere with an individual's ability to work, attend school, or interact socially with others.

Major Depressive Disorder

The first type of depression listed in the DSM is major depressive disorder. According to the DSM, for a diagnosis of clinical depression, symptoms such as feelings of guilt or worthlessness, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, suicidal thoughts, and/or constant sadness must be present every day for at least two weeks. Read our article on getting disability for major depression.


The second type of depression listed is dysthymia, a mood disorder. This type of depression has many of the same symptoms as Major Depressive Disorder, but the symptoms are generally less severe and occur over a period of at least two years. Learn more about getting disability for dysthymia.

Manic Depression

The third type of depression described in the DSM is manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder. Manic depression is characterized by periods of mania and depression, or extreme highs and lows. Manic episodes cause an inflated sense of self-esteem, lack of sleep, extreme talkativeness, racing thoughts, irritability, and increased participation in risky behaviors (sex, drugs, and alcohol, for instance). Mania may or may not be followed by a period of depression. Symptoms of this kind of depression can be severe enough to cause psychotic episodes such as hallucinations and delusions and may even require hospitalization. For more information, see our article on getting disability for bipolar disorder.

Most depression can be successfully treated with psychotherapy and medication(s), but until the right combination of therapy/medication is arrived at, this condition can be crippling to some individuals.

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