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Mental disorders and SSDI benefits

Many people in Oklahoma suffer from emotional and mental conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. In many cases, the disorder becomes so intense that it interferes with a person’s ability to work. Persons who suffer from such afflictions often wonder if their disorder might qualify them for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The answer can be “yes” if certain conditions can be satisfied.

As with any illness or injury presented in a claim for SSDI benefits, the applicant must demonstrate that the condition is permanent, that is, it will either last at least 12 months or result in death. The illness or injury must also be proved to prevent the applicant from engaging in any substantial gainful activity (“SGA”). Substantial gainful activity is defined as the capacity to earn more than a specified amount per month. For 2020, the limit is set at $1260 for all non-blind applicants. For blind applicants, the monthly limit is $2,210 per month. These standards apply to all types of SSDI applications.

The Social Security Administration regulations list a number of mental disorders that can qualify a person for SSDI benefits. Each condition has a specific set of symptoms that identify the disorder and help an applicant choose which disorder to present in an SSDI application. The list and sets of qualifying details is far too long to fit in a blog post. However, an look at a few of the most common disorders provides an insight into how the SSA evaluates a disability application based upon a mental disorder.

Neurocognitive disorders are conditions that interfere with a person’s cognitive abilities, including complex attention, executive function, learning and memory, language, perceptual-motor or social cognition. An applicant who can demonstrate one or more of these cognitive limitations must also show either that (a) the disorder limits a person’s ability to understand and use information or manage oneself or (b) that the disorder has persisted for at least 2 years.

A second common disorder is schizophrenia. An applicant must prove that the disorder causes delusions or hallucinations or disorganized thinking or behavior and extreme limitation in understanding, remembering or applying information or interacting with others.

A third example is anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders. To obtain benefits for this condition, an applicant must prove that he or she has five or more symptoms, including depressed mood, diminished interest in almost all activities, sleep disturbance, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness or thoughts of death or suicide. A person must also prove episodes of inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, or distractibility.

In all, the SSA lists thirteen categories of mental conditions that may qualify for SSDI benefits. Any application for benefits for a mental disorder must be supported by extensive written confirmation from health care providers, with at least one or two opinions from a health care professional who specializes in treating mental disorders that the applicant’s symptoms satisfy the SSDI criteria.

Anyone thinking about applying for SSDI benefits for a mental disorder may obtain significant assistance from an experienced attorney who is knowledgeable about the SSDI benefits system. A capable lawyer can assist in completing the application, obtaining supporting information from health care professionals and, if the application is initially denied, assist in filing an appeal.

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