Getting Disability Benefits Because of a Dissociative Disorder

Social Security disability benefits are sometimes allowed for long-term dissociative disorder.

By , Contributing Author

Having dissociative disorder can affect one's ability to keep a full-time job, especially one with work stresses, which can worsen symptoms. Dissociative disorder is a mental impairment in which individuals have a disconnection from who they are. Such disconnects can be temporary or can last for an extended amount of time. The severity of the dissociative disorder can vary greatly from one individual to the next and thus have varied affects on the overall functioning of an individual. But if the disorder leads to significant disruptions in a person's ability to function at home and the workplace, he or she may be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Overview and Symptoms of Dissociative Disorder

There are four main types of dissociative disorder. Each type has different symptoms and can affect functioning differently.

Dissociative amnesia. The main symptom of this type of dissociative disorder is loss of memory. The loss of memory can be extreme and is not caused by a medical condition. Traumatic events often trigger this memory loss and can make people unable to recall certain traumatic periods or people in their lives.

Dissociative identity disorder. This type of dissociative disorder is formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Individuals with this disorder often feel there are different people living inside their head and may switch into these alternate identities in times of stress. Each identity is different in personal history and characteristics, including physical qualities.

Dissociative fugue. This main symptom of this dissociative disorder is the creation of physical distance from one's real identity. Individuals may abruptly leave home or work and go somewhere with no memory of their true identity, possibly creating a new identity. These periods can last a few hours or up to many months and begin as abruptly as they began. When an individual comes out of this period, they have no memory of what happened during that period.

Depersonalization disorder. The main symptom of this dissociative disorder is the feeling of being outside yourself and watching your actions from a distance. Things you view and time can become distorted, and the world may seem unreal to you. These symptoms can last for a few moments or can come and go over a period of years.

Despite the differences between the types of dissociative disorder one suffers from, there are also common symptoms that can affect all individuals with this disorder, including:

  • memory loss of certain periods of time, events, or people
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • sense of being detached from yourself
  • distortion of people and things around you, and
  • a confused sense of identity.

Long-term effects of dissociative disorder can include:

Ways to Qualify for Social Security Disability

There are two main ways in which to qualify for a Social Security disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI): meeting a medical listing or proving that you are unable to work.

Meeting a Listing

Social Security provides a list of medical conditions, along with the necessary symptoms, that will automatically qualify one for disability benefits if the condition's requirements in the Social Security Blue Book are met. For dissociative disorder, there is no specific listing. However, if any of the individual symptoms becomes severe enough, you may be able to qualify for benefits under the following listings:

Additionally, if dissociative disorder is a symptom of another disorder, such as post traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder, you may qualify for benefits under those disorders.

Ability to Work

If you do not meet a listing but you are unable to work because of the combined effect of all of your impairments, you may qualify by benefits by proving that your impairments prevent you from being able to work.

Social Security will look at several different factors in determining if you are able to work. Your physical and mental abilities and limitations will be assessed and then considered along with your age, level of education, and work history in determining if you can work.

Mental abilities that are assessed include your ability to understand and complete tasks, to interact properly with coworkers, and to handle work stresses. The ability to handle work stresses is the biggest obstacle for those with dissociative disorder, as the symptoms of the disorder generally occur in periods of stress. Changes in personality, leaving for periods of time, and feeling outside of oneself can all affect abilities to hold down a job, and personality changes may affect your ability to properly interact with others at work. Other symptoms, including anxiety and depression, may also affect your ability to complete work and interactions with others at work. If you have serious physical limitations in addition to mental or emotional difficulties, you have a better chance of getting disability benefits. For more information, see our article on how Social Security assesses physical and mental impairments together.

It is important to note that individuals with dissociative disorder can be treated with psychotherapy and medications. As dissociative disorder generally develops as a coping mechanism to cope with a traumatic event, individuals can learn new ways of coping and the symptoms of the disorder can significantly decrease. Individual who are able to decrease symptoms through treatment will not qualify for disability benefits.

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