How to Apply for Disability Benefits for Mental Disorders

Sometimes people just need a little help. If you can prove that you have a disability that prevents you from working, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Social Security Income (SSI).

Types of Benefits

SSDI is a benefit which offers monthly payments that requires you to have had a steady work history over the past decade. You must have a disability and submit an application to the Social Security Administration (SSA). You must also currently be able to earn no more than $1,170 per month, and your condition must prevent you from working for a year–either the past year, or the foreseeable future. SSDI needs you to have earned 40 “work credits,” where you earn and pay taxes on a minimum of $1,260 per month. You can gather up to four work credits per year. Twenty of them must be earned in the decade before the disability was diagnosed. Younger claimants may qualify based on their parents’ work history.

SSI, on the other hand, is a needs-based program. To qualify, you may not own more than $2,000 in assets excluding your home and one vehicle worth $4,500 or less. If you’re married, you may own up to $3,000 in assets. Your income must be below a certain threshold depending on where you live.

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Credit to flickr.com user Jason Truscott. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Which Disabilities Are Accepted

The SSA publishes a “Blue Book” which describes the criteria required for disabilities to be accepted for benefits. Bipolar disorder and other mood disorders are part of this Blue Book, as well as schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and intellectual disabilities, like autism. Unfortunately, illnesses like bipolar disorder or depression need a great deal of evidence to demonstrate that your condition impairs your ability to work, even after treatment.

Application Process

The process to apply for these benefits for a mental disorder is not that much different from applying for a physical disability. Your best bet in submitting an application is to visit your local SSA office. There, you can talk to a representative who will help you fill out the forms. If you’re not comfortable with talking to the representatives in person, you can call them. They will fill out the forms for you and send a medical release form for you to sign, along with a postage-paid envelope. They will also let you know what documents you need to send them in order to prove your disability, like medical records from up to a year before your disability diagnosis.

Medical Records

The SSA is obligated to help you find and submit all of your medical records, though if you submit them yourself, your case will be delayed less. List all of your treatment team and where they work on your application form, from counselors to psychiatrists. The SSA will have you sign an Authorization to Disclose Information (SSA-827) to obtain the required records from your providers. Your medical records should contain the results of any tests–like IQ tests in the case of intellectual disabilities–as well as treatment notes. Your doctor can also fill out an optional mental residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment form, which is the best thing you can do for your case, as it demonstrates your doctor’s opinion on whether or not you can function.

It is very important to provide evidence towards your disability, like diagnoses, treatment plans, prognoses, every medication tried, and how you responded to medication. In the best case scenario, your treatment notes will include details on how your disability impedes your ability to work.

ADLs

The representative will also have you fill out a survey about your “activities of daily living,” or ADL. The Function Report form (SSA-3373) makes you describe how your disorder impairs your daily life, including during social engagements, housework, shopping, transportation, and how you spend money. If you have trouble working with coworkers or following instructions, then you need to talk about that in your ADL.

Managing Expectations

Try not to get your hopes up that your initial claim will be approved. Over 60% of claims are denied at first, and over 80% of appeals are denied. That’s not to say you shouldn’t appeal! You definitely should. You may consider hiring a Social Security Disability lawyer to help you fill out your forms and represent you in your hearing with an Administrative Law Judge.

You can be disqualified from receiving benefits by not following your doctor’s treatment plan. It’s very important to take your medication and attend your talk therapy appointments during your application process.

Applying for disability benefits can be a daunting procedure, but it can be done. It takes effort and patience and communication with your treatment team. Make sure that you jump in feet first.

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6 thoughts on “How to Apply for Disability Benefits for Mental Disorders”

  1. Every time I read a post here @ The Bipolar Parent, I think about how great they would be in a separate book. But I know your memoir comes first! This is a fantastic explanation of a topic that intimidates a lot of people who should rightfully receive disability so that they never apply for it. Well done, as usual, Cass! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Dyane! That’s high praise! I would love to publish these in a separate book, but I don’t know what the unifying theme would be. I’d have to do a lot more editing! But thank you. I appreciate your enthusiasm, and your comments!

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