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Social Security Disability and Mental Illness: What You Need to Know

For many people with mental illnesses, one of the barriers to receiving any kind of assistance is stigma. Over the past several decades in the United States, mental illness has become more and more accepted as a health issue rather than a shameful and unnatural condition, and people have started talking about it rather than trying to cover it up. However, in many cases it is still difficult for people with mental illnesses to either speak out about their experience or, when they do, to get help. One example is with Social Security disability benefits, for which it is much harder to get your claim approved if you have a mental illness than if you have a physical condition.

There are several reasons for this, starting with the fact that mental illnesses are difficult to evaluate. The SSA is looking for ways that your disability affects your work and prevents you from carrying out the tasks you need in order to earn a living, and it can be difficult to prove that your mental illness stops you from working the way that a physical disability does. Furthermore, many claims examiners are not well-read in the psychological and medical aspects of mental health, and thus they may believe that just because you are not currently displaying symptoms, your condition is cured — even if mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or manic depression are recurring and cyclical.


Another hurdle to overcome is the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses themselves. Many people are inherently distrustful of people’s claims of mental illness because they don’t understand why they can’t just “suck it up” and stop themselves from feeling a certain way. Some people may believe that people with mental disorders are simply faking it, or malingering, in order to receive benefits.


With all of these barriers, there are still ways that you can get benefits if you apply for them with a mental illness. The Social Security Administration recognizes several different impairments that may be eligible for benefits: schizophrenia, mental retardation, autistic disorders, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and substance abuse disorders. If your condition is not listed here, you may still receive benefits if you can prove how your disability prevents you from engaging in substantial gainful activity.

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