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Depression and Your Claim For Social Security Disability Benefits

By R. M. Bottger

Depression is a common allegation on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability claims. Sometimes depression is found to be disabling, and sometimes it isnít. It all depends on the severity of the depression. Here is a description at what the Social Security Administration looks at when evaluating the severity of depression to determine eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

When evaluating your claim for Social Security disability benefits, the Social Security Administration will want copies of all of your medical records from all places where you have received treatment for your depression. This may include, but is not limited to, records from psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, mental health clinics, hospitals, and family doctors. and any other place where you have received treatment for your depression. (See What Medical Records Should You Submit When You Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?)

            If your medical records do not contain enough information about your depression to make a decision on your Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income disability case, the Social Security Administration will schedule a mental status examination (MSE) for you; SSA will pay for any examinations that it schedules for you regarding your claim for Social Security disability benefits. (See Examinations Scheduled for You by SSA for Your Disability Claim.) Examinations are often needed on people with depression. This is because existing records frequently do not provide the information SSA needs about depression to make its decision on claims for Social Security disability benefits. Often, notes from the personís family doctor just shows that the doctor prescribed medication for depression. Often notes from counselors and mental health clinics just talk about the personís marital problems, financial problems, legal problems, or other things going on in the personís life; these things are not necessarily good indicators of how severe the depression is. Hospitalization records do not provide a good indication of how the person will function once out of the hospital because the depression often looks much better toward the end of a hospitalization but the person's depression may deteriorate rapidly after getting out of the hospital. If you go to a MSE for SSA due to depression, the psychiatrist or psychologist performing the examination will ask you to describe what mental problems you are having. Then he or she will ask you a series of questions designed to evaluate basic mental functions such as memory, concentration, intelligence, judgment, and the ability to follow directions. For example, to evaluate your memory the examiner might ask you a question about your childhood or what you had for lunch yesterday. Then, the examiner might say seven numbers and ask you to recite them back. The examiner might say the names of three objects and ask you to repeat them immediately and then ask you to repeat them again in five minutes. The MSE scheduled to evaluate your claim for Social Security disability benefits usually lasts about an hour.

            When evaluating your claim for Social Security disability benefits, SSA will also look at how your depression affects your daily activities. To do this, SSA will look at how you describe your daily activities. (See How Your Daily Activities Affect Your Disability Case.) SSA will look at any letters that you have submitted from family and friends describing how your depression affects your daily activities. (See Letters From Friends and Family About Your Disability Claim.) The disability determination specialist who is working on your case may call you, your family members, or friends to find out more about how your depression affects your daily activities. SSA will want to know how your daily activities are different now that you are depressed compared with your daily activities before your depression began. Depression affects different peopleís daily activities in different ways. For example, when I was a disability determination specialist, I had a case of a man suffering from severe depression who would hide under his bed any time friends or family came to visit. Another person with depression  might sleep eighteen hours per day. Another person suffering from depression might not be able to sleep very much at all. One person who has depression might gain a lot of weight; another person with depression might lose a lot of weight. Some people suffering from depression quit bathing and maintaining personal hygiene. Some depressed people quit doing housework. The daily activities carry a lot of weight with SSA when evaluating claims for Social Security disability benefits due to mental illness.

            After all of the evidence is in your disability file, your case will be reviewed by your disability determination specialist and either a psychologist or psychiatrist. (See Who Makes the Decision on Your Disability Case?) You will probably never meet the people who make the decision on your Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income disability case. In the nine years I worked as a disability determination specialist, I only met four or five of the people whose cases I worked on; however, I spoke on the phone to most of the people whose cases I worked on. The psychologist or psychiatrist reviewing your case will fill out a Psychiatric Review Technique Form that evaluate your signs and symptoms of depression and the Mental Residual Functional Capacity Form that evaluates the effect of your depression on your ability to perform work-related functions.

            When evaluating your claim for Social Security disability benefits, SSA will look at what signs and symptoms of depression you have and how severe the signs and symptoms are. To be diagnosed with depression, you must have at least four of the following signs and symptoms:

 

        Anhedonia or pervasive loss of interest in almost all activities

        Appetite disturbance with change in weight

        Sleep disturbance

        Psychomotor agitation or retardation

        Decreased energy

        Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

        Difficulty concentrating or thinking

        Thoughts of suicide

        Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking

 

SSA will then look at how your depression affects your ability to do work-related functions in order to determine your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits. Mental work related functions are things like the ability to get along with coworkers and supervisors, the ability to make work-related decisions, and the ability to carry out directions. (For a complete list of the mental work-related functions that SSA looks at when evaluating claims for Social Security disability benefits, see Your Ability to Do Mental Work-Related Functions and Your Disability Claim.) For example, a person who has depression who is sleeping eighteen hours per day might not be able report to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and maintain punctuality within customary tolerances

Only the most severe cases of depression are eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

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