Can You Get Social Security Disability for OCD?

Severe restrictions in your ability to work caused by OCD symptoms can qualify you for Social Security disability.

By , Attorney | Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney
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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric condition where a person experiences constant unwelcome ideas and feelings (obsessions) and feels obligated to perform repetitive tasks to reduce the obsessions (compulsions).

Types of obsessive thoughts can include:

  • fear of contamination by germs (germaphobia) followed by cleansing
  • fear of pending danger or disaster, relieved by checking locks, faucets, and stoves, or
  • hoarding and sorting objects.

OCD compulsions can be time-consuming, taking an hour or more a day. People with OCD can have difficulty concentrating because their thoughts are preoccupied with their obsession and the anxiety that results from resisting a compulsion. OCD is often a chronic condition that can evolve into clinical depression.

Is OCD a Disability?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that symptoms from OCD can make it difficult to focus on even basic work-related tasks. If you're unable to work for twelve months because of your OCD symptoms, you might be eligible for disability benefits.

Depending on the degree that your OCD interferes with your activities of daily living, you could qualify for disability in one of two ways:

  • You can meet or equal the requirements of the listing for OCD ("medically disabled"), or
  • You can show that your OCD prevents you from working any job ("vocationally disabled").

Meeting or Equaling the Listing for OCD

Social Security maintains a category of disorders (called the Listing of Impairments, or the "Blue Book") that the agency considers to be especially serious. Applicants whose medical records contain specific evidence of an impairment that the SSA has already determined to be enough to qualify for disability can get benefits without having to show that they can't do any job.

OCD is one of the listed impairments. Social Security will evaluate disability applications ("claims") based on OCD under Listing 12.06, Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders.

For the SSA to determine that you're medically disabled due to OCD, you must have a diagnosis of OCD characterized by either an involuntary, time-consuming preoccupation with intrusive, unwanted thoughts or by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety.

Additionally, you must also meet the "functional criteria" to show that you have a loss of abilities due to these symptoms. You'll need to show that your OCD causes an "extreme" (debilitating) limitation in one, or a "marked" (intense, but not debilitating) limitation in two, of these areas:

  • Understanding, remembering, or using information. Examples include being able to follow a recipe, give directions, and set a schedule.
  • Interacting with others. Examples include being polite in routine social transactions, asking for help when you need it, and holding a conversation.
  • Concentrating and maintaining pace. Examples include being able to ignore distractions, start and finish chores in a timely manner, and focus on tasks.
  • Adapting or managing oneself. Examples include practical personal skills like paying bills, keeping clean, and getting to appointments on time.

Most claimants who the SSA finds medically disabled because of OCD do have evidence of marked or extreme limitations. But if you can show that you can only function as well as you do because you get a lot of help, the agency can find you medically disabled without these limitations.

If you've spent at least two years being unable to function without a support system (such as social workers, group homes, or family members who make sure that you're taking care of yourself), Social Security will take this into consideration when determining whether you meet the listing for OCD.

Vocational Disability for Less Severe OCD

The SSA might not think that your symptoms are severe enough to qualify under its official listing for OCD. For example, your OCD might severely interfere with your ability to concentrate at times, but it doesn't have a significant impact on your ability to get along with other people or manage yourself. In this case, Social Security can still find you disabled "vocationally" if you can prove that your symptoms prevent you from working full-time.

You'll first need to show that you can't work at your past jobs because your obsessive thoughts prevent you from focusing for long periods of time or your compulsions keep you from working at a reasonable pace.

If the SSA agrees that you can't do your old job, the agency will then need to determine whether there are any other jobs you can be expected to learn and do. Depending on your age, education, and whether you learned any transferable skills at your previous jobs, you'll likely have to show that your OCD symptoms prevent you from doing even the easiest, routine jobs.

For more information on proving that you can't do simple unskilled work, see our article on mental limitations that rule out all jobs.

What Medical Evidence Do You Need for Disability Based on OCD?

Your medical record is the foundation of your disability claim. Social Security will look for evidence that your OCD symptoms are severe enough to keep you from working.

The agency will look for this evidence in your psychiatric record, which should include the following:

  • your medication history, including any selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) you've been prescribed such as Zoloft, Paxil, or Celexa. (SSRIs are a class of antidepressants that have been shown to be effective in treating OCD.)
  • your doctor's or counselor's observations about how you're feeling and acting during a visit
  • mental status examinations showing any abnormalities in your thinking (such as being unable to follow along in a conversation or misremembering simple facts), and
  • progress notes from common OCD treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CPT) or exposure and response prevention (ERP).

Make sure that you also let Social Security know about any other conditions, illnesses, or disorders that you think are preventing you from working. Many disability applicants with a diagnosis of OCD have other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders or depressive disorders, that can magnify symptoms of OCD.

OCD might be the main reason that you can't work, but if you have any physical impairments in addition to your mental symptoms, be sure to mention them on your disability application. Social Security is required to consider the combined effects of your health problems when determining whether you're disabled. Multiple impairments can often add up to a finding of disability even when one condition alone isn't enough.

Starting a Disability Claim for OCD

Social Security provides several easy ways for you to start your disability claim:

  • File online at https://www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/.
  • Call 800-772-1213 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, you can call the TTY number at 800-325-0778.
  • Go in person to your nearest Social Security field office. You can find your local SSA office using the agency's search tool here.

Applying for disability benefits can be intimidating if you're doing it by yourself. Consider getting an experienced disability attorney or advocate on your side. Your representative can help sort through your medical records, strengthen any weaknesses in your application, and advocate for you at a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.

Updated November 28, 2022

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