How to Prove Mental Illness in a Social Security Application

By: Disability Group

There is no question that people who suffer from mental illnesses have difficulty finding and maintaining employment.  Many mental illnesses, such as clinic depression or bi-polar disorder can have a major effect on one’s ability to interact with others, follow directions and stay on task.  These qualities are necessary for most individuals to find employment and avoid getting fired.

Although all doctors acknowledge the existence of mental disorders, not all of them are disabling.  When a person claims that they are disabled due to a mental condition, there are many complex processes that the Social Security Administration will go through in order to determine whether or not your mental condition is truly “disabling.”  The following questions address some of the things that Social Security will consider when evaluating a mental illness claim.

Can the mental condition be successfully treated using medication or therapy?

If someone alleges that they have a mental disability but have never been treated for it, then there is very little chance that they will receive disability benefits

If you are being treated for a mental illness the next question is, can the illness be treated? Many doctors are weary about the effects of certain medications and may try to use therapy as a means of treatment first.  If this is unsuccessful, then your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist.

 There are numerous medications that psychiatrists can try before determining that your mental illness is not treatable.  Just because one medication does not work does not necessarily mean that another will not.  Everyone responds to medications differently and doctors generally have no other way to determine which one is best for you other than by trial and error.

Do drugs and alcohol affect a mental disability?

Prolonged drug and alcohol abuse can cause a person to have similar symptoms as someone with a mental illness.  For that reason a person using drugs and/or alcohol may have a difficult time winning their disability claim.

One of the steps to proving a person’s disability involves determining the severity of the person’s impairments.  This step can be difficult if there is any evidence of drug/alcohol abuse in the individual’s medical records.  If you have a history of substance abuse and you currently have a claim for disability, it is important that you:  1) abstain for such activities and 2) make sure that your medical records state that your substance abuse is “in remission”.

How severe must a mental disability be in order to be considered disabling?

It depends on the specific mental disorder that you have but in general there are four areas that a judge will consider in determining how severe your impairments are:

1)      Activities of daily living refers to your ability to perform certain tasks such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, using public transportation, grooming, paying bills, using telephones etc.

2)       Social Functioning refers to your ability to interact with other people, such as family, friends, and neighbors, and your ability to make friends, participate in groups, and cooperate with others.

3)      Concentration, persistence or pace refers to the ability to stay focused and complete tasks in an appropriate amount of time.

4)      Episodes of decompensation are a little more complicated but it basically refers to any extended period of time where someone experienced increased signs of difficulty with the previous three areas.

Some tips to help your case:

1)      Continue seeing your doctor and make sure to explain fully how your condition affects you

2)      Completely avoid using drugs or alcohol

3)      Make sure that you are being compliant with treatment (i.e. follow doctor’s orders)

4)      Give social security the same information that you give your doctors