Social Security Disability for Depression and Anxiety Combined

Social Security will look at how much the combined effect of your depression and anxiety limits you from doing work-related activities of daily living to determine if you're disabled.

Updated by , Attorney
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Question

Does having a combination of both clinical depression and anxiety make it any easier to get disability benefits?

Answer

Having a combination of mental health diagnoses won't necessarily help you get benefits, but it doesn't hurt. Social Security doesn't count how many individual diagnoses you have and then find you disabled if you reach a certain number. Instead, what Social Security looks at is how much the combined effect of your medical conditions limits you from doing work-related activities of daily living.

Depression and anxiety can have a profound impact on a person's life and career. People who are depressed may be unmotivated, lack energy, have trouble enjoying happy occasions, experience sleep problems, and feel worthless. People who are anxious may have a hard time leaving their home, being around other people, coping with minor stresses, concentrating for very long, and reacting appropriately in social and professional situations. When a person has both clinical depression and anxiety disorder, the combined symptoms can interact in a way that results in more intense limitations.

Here's an example of how depression and anxiety can combine to limit the daily activities that someone can do. Somebody with depression might lack motivation to do the dishes and will let them pile up, but might be able to feed themselves by ordering take-out. Somebody with anxiety, on the other hand, might be able to do the dishes as long as they are alone, but could have a hard time leaving their house to pick up food or greet the delivery person. But a person with both depression and anxiety could find it too difficult to either clean the dishes or interact with the person bringing them food. As a result, the person might not eat as much and lose significant weight, compounding feelings of fatigue and isolation.

When the combined limitations of depression and anxiety are severe enough, a person can become unable to work. People with both depression and anxiety disorders (a common combination) might qualify for disability through the Social Security Administration's disability insurance program (SSDI) or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. In order to qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits on the basis of depression and anxiety, you must show Social Security that your mental conditions have prevented you from living a normal life for at least a year. For more information, see our articles on disability for depression and disability for anxiety.

Social Security will review your medical records to see what your mental health providers have to say about your depression and anxiety. Your medical records should contain progress notes showing that you're regularly going to a doctor or therapist. These notes should mention what your doctor or therapist has noticed about how you act and feel during visits—for example, if you're tearful or angry during a counseling session. Additionally, the notes should document the effectiveness of any medications you're taking, including any changes in dosage or frequency, as well as any side effects you might experience. Ultimately, Social Security needs to see how your depression and anxiety together limit your ability to concentrate, remember and follow directions, function socially, and manage the tasks of daily living.

Depression and anxiety can often result from physical conditions such as heart disease, back pain, or lupus (among others). If you're already limited in what you can do physically, having additional issues with depression or anxiety can sometimes make it easier to get disability benefits. For more information, see our article on how depression or anxiety affects a disability claim for a physical problem.

Updated May 11, 2022

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