Can I Get Social Security Disability Benefits for a Mental Illness?

girl sits on a couch while talking to a mental health specialistSocial Security Disability benefits are available for people who are or have become disabled and cannot work. For some, the disability is physical, such as kidney failure or a back injury. For others, the disability may be mental, such as schizophrenia or autism spectrum disorder.

The Social Security Administration does consider some mental illnesses and disorders as a basis to receive Social Security Disability benefits. Based on my experience, mental disability claims are rejected more often than those based on physical disability. Here’s what you should know.

Why Are Mental Disability Claims Denied More Often Than Physical Disability Claims?

The reason is that it can be difficult to objectively show that a mental condition is severe enough to prevent basic work functions. In addition, not all examiners necessarily have the training to understand how to evaluate mental disorders or illnesses in relation to employment.

Mental disability claims can be more complicated than physical disability claims.
An experienced Social Security Disability attorney can help you with your claim.

The SSA’s Listing of Impairments

The Social Security Administration’s official listing of impairments outlines what it considers to be a mental disability:

  • Schizophrenic, paranoia, and other psychotic disorders

  • Affective disorders, such as depression or hallucinations

  • Intellectual disability

  • Anxiety-related disorders

  • Somatoform disorders (mental illness that causes symptoms and pain, but cannot be traced to any physical cause, and is not the result of substance abuse – hypochondria, for example)

  • Personality disorders

  • Autistic disorders and other pervasive developmental disorders

If you meet the criteria outlined in the listing and other criteria the agency may require, you can be considered mentally disabled by their standards.

Denied? You May Still Be Eligible for Benefits

Whether you have a condition that is not listed here (or on the SSA’s website) or your condition does not meet the criteria in these listings, you may still be eligible for benefits. An attorney can help you identify your options.

How Can I Prove I’m Impaired?

You will have to show that your condition will interfere with your ability to perform work and that the condition is likely to last longer than one year. If your condition is on the SSA’s official listing, you will need to provide documentation that you meet the criteria for that impairment (the criteria are also laid out in the official listings).

Documentation of your impairment may include:

  • Your doctor’s notes

  • A diagnosis from your doctor that you suffer from the impairment

  • Treatment records

  • A detailed description of how the impairment prevents you from working or a description of limitations/restrictions from your treating provider

If you don’t meet the criteria from the SSA’s official listing but are still suffering from an impairment that prevents you from working, you may still qualify for a medical vocational allowance. If you are unable to focus, work with others, or have other significant difficulties that prevent you from working, you can ask your doctor to fill out a Residual Functional Capacity form and apply for benefits on the basis of that.

How to Apply for Disability Benefits

The first step you need to take is to submit an application. You can do this online or you can call 1-800-722-1213 on business days.

Before you get in touch with the SSA, make sure you have:

  • Social Security Numbers for you, your current or former spouse, and all your minor children

  • Your bank routing and account numbers

  • Contact information for someone who can answer questions about how your impairment restricts you

  • The details for all your jobs from the past 15 years and information about all of your treating doctors/providers

After you submit your initial application, a decision will be made by an office in Raleigh that is empowered to determine eligibility on behalf of the SSA. If you are not successful on your first attempt, you are not alone. Many applicants who do not get their initial application approved have still been successful after appealing the denial.

Watch: Applying for Disability Benefits

Free Evaluation Regarding Your Denied Mental Illness Claim

If you’ve been denied Social Security Disability benefits, get a second opinion. Contact us for a free case evaluation. Our department is led by a North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability law. Out of the more than 31,200 attorneys licensed to practice in North Carolina, only about 50 in the entire state are Board Certified as Social Security Disability Specialists by the NC State Bar.*

Call 1-866-900-7078 any time or submit our online form to have someone reach out to you. There is no charge and no obligation to hire us afterwards.


*Figures provided by the NC State Bar as of 1/22.

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About the Author

Rick Fleming practices Social Security Disability law at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. In addition to heading up the firm’s Social Security Disability Department, he is a North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability Law and fluent in English and Spanish. Rick has received multiple Order of Service awards from the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, and he is an active board member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR). He currently holds the board-elected position of NOSSCR Treasurer, after completing a year serving as the organization’s Secretary.