Those who suffer from depression know how debilitating the disease can be. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that depression can limit a person’s ability to work. Those who suffer from depression and are thinking of applying for Social Security disability benefits should understand how the SSA will evaluate whether they qualify for SSDI.
Substantial Gainful Employment
The first thing that the SSA looks at for any applicant is whether he or she is currently working. If the applicant is working, the SSA checks his or her monthly earnings to see if he or she is engaged in what the SSA considers “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). In general, the SSA considers earning $1,000 per month or more SGA.
Severity of Illness
If a person is not working or does not make over $1,000 per month, the SSA will look at whether the applicant’s depression is severe enough to limit the applicant’s ability to perform work activities, such as:
- Walking, standing or lifting
- Following directions
- Remembering information
- Interacting with co-workers and supervisors
The SSA will also look at whether the depression is expected to last for 12 months or more.
SSA Medical Listing for Depression
When evaluating a benefits application for a person suffering from depression, the SSA looks to see whether the person has any of the following symptoms:
- Changes in weight and appetite
- Inability to sleep
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation
- Loss of energy
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts
- Hallucinations, delusion or paranoid thoughts
The SSA will then assess how those symptoms affect the applicant’s:
- Daily activities
- Social functioning
- Persistence or pace – the ability to follow through with activities in a timely manner
The SSA will also examine the applicant’s medical records to see if the applicant has had repeated periods of decompensation, where he or she was unable to function due to the illness. The periods need to last for “an extended duration” and need to be documented.
In general, if an applicant displays four of the symptoms listed and those symptoms severely impact two of the categories listed, the applicant will qualify for disability benefits.
Past Work History
The SSA will also look to see what work an applicant has managed to do in the past, despite the depression. The SSA will assess whether the applicant can still do the same type of work with the disability.
Other Types of Work
If the SSA determines that the applicant can no longer do the type of work that he or she did in the past, the SSA will look to see if there are other jobs that the applicant could do, given his or her age, education and work experience.
Handling the affairs of daily life can seem overwhelming to a person struggling with depression. The thought of tackling a task as complex as applying for Social Security disability benefits may seem impossible. If you are depressed and can no longer work, contact an experienced disability attorney who can assist you with your application.
Source: Social Security Online, Blue Book, 12.04, “Affective Disorders,” Sept. 2008.