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Depression and Qualifying for Social Security Disability

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Depression?

Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis

Approximately 25 percent of adults over the age of 18 will experience an episode of major depression at some point in their lives. Depression is different from periods of sadness and despondency a person may feel in response to challenges at work or home. In some individuals, depression is a serious condition causing a person to function poorly at work, school or home. Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men, but depression affects both men and women and children as well as adults. If you are suffering from the effects of depression you may qualify for disability benefits.

Depression is often characterized by irritability or feelings of being misunderstood, as well as poor work attendance or performance.

Older adults may exhibit personality changes or memory problems. Depression may occur when a person experiences an emotionally painful event, but to be diagnosed with clinical depression, symptoms must continue for at least two weeks.

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Depression is recognized by the SSA as an impairment under listing 12.04. The listing includes symptoms and functional problems you must meet in order to qualify for SSDI.

The most common symptoms of depression include:

  •    Feeling sad or hopeless;
  •   Anhedonia (loss of interest in people and activities that previously were rewarding, like visiting with friends or a hobby);
  •   Fatigue;
  •   Insomnia or oversleeping;
  •   Feelings of worthlessness or failure;
  •   Difficulty in concentrating and making decisions;
  •   Anxiety;
  •   Changes in eating habits resulting in weight loss or weight gain;
  •   Physical symptoms such as headaches or digestive problems that do not subside with treatment;
  •   Suicidal thoughts.

There are several types of depression:

  •    Persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia. A depressed mood characterized by periods of major depression and periods of less severe symptoms that lasts for at least two years.
  •   Psychotic depression. Depression related to some type of psychosis, such as hallucinations or delusions.
  •   Seasonal affective disorder. Depression that is connected to the loss of natural light in winter and characterized by increased sleep, social withdrawal, and weight gain. It occurs in winter and disappears in spring.
  •   Postpartum depression. Severe depression experienced by women during pregnancy or after the birth of a child where sadness, anxiety and exhaustion make it difficult to care for the baby or themselves.
  •   Bipolar disorder. Though bipolar disorder is considered a type of depression, it differs from other types of depression in that individuals experience periods of euphoria as well as periods of deep depression.

Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from depression. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!

Depression is a complex disorder and no one knows exactly what causes it; however, researchers have noted differences in the brains of people who are depressed.

The part of the brain that stores memory, the hippocampus, is smaller in some people who suffer from depression and has fewer serotonin receptors. Serotonin, a chemical in the brain that is involved in how emotions are processed, may affect overall mood.

Other possible causes of depression include:

  •   Loss of a loved one or a job;
  •   Serious illness;
  •   Hormone imbalance;
  •   Abuse – physical, emotional or sexual;
  •    Family history of depression;
  •   Major events such as graduating, a new job or retiring;
  •   Conflicts with family, friends or co-workers;
  •   Certain medications such as isotretinoin for acne or corticosteroids;
  •   Substance abuse.

Depression is not curable, but it is treatable.

Medications can reduce symptoms, but are most effective when used in combination with therapy that focuses on developing social skills as well as problem solving and changing behaviors. Unfortunately, some anti-depressants have more side effects than others and 30-40% of patients have only a partial response to drugs. There are also steps an individual can take on their own to relieve depression;

  •    Develop a routine; a set schedule reduces stress.
  •   Exercise, eat a healthy diet, and get enough sleep.
  •   Set daily goals to give you a sense of accomplishment.
  •   Get involved in a project, such as volunteering or part-time work.
  •   Try something new; take a class in a subject that interests you or visit a museum.
  •   Find time for people and things you enjoy.

Qualifying for Disability for Depression

Depression can seriously interfere with an individual’s ability to work and is the second most common medical condition listed on applications for Social Security Disability Income.

To be eligible for disability benefits, in addition to supportive medical evidence, you must show that your depression has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months and your condition prevents you from working and earning over $1,470 per month (in 2023). The Social Security Administration lists depression as an impairment in its Blue Book under Section 12.04.

To qualify under this listing, you must meet the following criteria:

  1.    Medical documentation of depression and at least five or more of the following:

    1.   Depressed mood;
    2.   Decreased interest in almost all activities;
    3.   Appetite disturbance resulting in weight loss or weight gain;
    4.   Insomnia or sleeping excessively;
    5.   Slow physical movements or agitation;
    6.   Decreased energy;
    7.   Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;
    8.   Difficulty concentrating or thinking; or
    9.   Thoughts of death or suicide.

  2. AND

  3.   Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning:

    1.    Understanding, remembering, or applying information;
    2.   Interacting with others;
    3.   Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace;
    4.   Adapting or managing oneself.

There is also another set of criteria under this listing which acknowledges that some individuals with depression may not show serious symptoms because they live in a highly supervised or protected environment, such as a nursing home or group home.

They may seem to have better functional abilities than if they lived in a different, real-world situation, but are not expected to perform in a work environment.

To qualify for disability under these criteria, you must have a medically documented history of depression over a period of at least two years, and evidence of both of the following:

  1.    Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support, or a highly structured setting that is ongoing and that decreases the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder; and
  2.   You have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life.

Social Security will expect you to provide detailed medical records. These records should include:

  •    Names and addresses of all medical providers.
  •   Dates of medical appointments and doctors’ exam notes.
  •   Dates of hospitalizations and emergency room visits. This is important to prove the severity of your depression.
  •   Mental testing results.
  •   Medications and treatments you are taking as well as any side effects.

Ask your doctor to complete an RFC form.

This essential form will evaluate your ability to focus, concentrate, remember instructions and your social skills, describing what you can do and not do physically and mentally. You must show that you have followed your doctor’s plan, but are still disabled. If you are still working, keep track of absences. This will establish that your productivity at work is declining. You must prove that your medical condition has reduced your work productivity by at least 15 % of the acceptable level. If you consistently need to stop work because of an inability to focus or headaches, or miss work several days per month, you will not be able to maintain full-time employment.

If you don’t meet the specific criteria of Social Security’s listing – and this may be quite difficult – you may still be approved for disability benefits through a medical-vocational allowance.

Social Security will conduct a Residual Functional Capacity assessment (RFC) to consider the following:

  •    your ability to carry out instructions;
  •   if you can make simple work-related decision;
  •   if you respond appropriately to supervision;
  •   how you get along with coworkers; and
  •   how you handle changes in routine.

Social Security will then rate your ability to perform skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled work, taking into account your age, whether or not you are able to drive, and your level of education.

Your chances for approval are better if you have another impairment; for example, high blood pressure or arthritis. Applicants often have more than one illness or injury that prevents them from working full time. While one disorder may not meet the requirements of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book, if you have multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit your ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks.

If you have been diagnosed with depression and it has prevented you from maintaining full-time employment, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

But depression is not uncommon and getting approved for disability benefits may be a long, complicated process. An experienced Social Security disability attorney can review your case and take over the burdens of gathering evidence and filing your application, preventing costly mistakes and increasing your chances for approval.

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.

The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.

  1.   The Duration of Work test.   Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
  2.   The Current Work Test.   Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.

The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.

  1.   Are you working?   Your disability must be “total”.
  2.   Is your medical condition severe?    Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
  3.   Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments?   The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
  4.   Can you do the work you did before?   SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
  5.   Can you do any other type of work?   If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.

More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.

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Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.

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Attorney Lloyd BemisAuthor: Attorney Lloyd Bemis has been practicing law for over 35 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Bemis obtained dual board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lloyd is admitted to practice in the United States District Court – all Texas Districts and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Bemis is a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has been active in the American Association for Justice and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Bemis and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.

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