If you live with depression, you may often wonder, “Is depression a disability?” Depressive symptoms can be debilitating for many, sometimes limiting the ability to work, socialize, and otherwise live a healthy life. Depression can certainly be considered a disability by the Social Security Administration if depressive symptoms align with SSA criteria.
- Depressive State of Mind
- Lowered Energy
- Sleep Loss
- Cognitive Challenges
- Suicidal Thoughts
- Chronic Guilt
- Loss of Appetite with Weight Change
- Loss of Interest in Activities
- Behavioral Changes
The SSA defines depression as a disability when a person has several of these symptoms that affect them regularly. Usually, a person must prove that they experience at least five of these symptoms regularly by providing written statements and medical evidence to support their diagnosis, assessments, and treatments.
Receiving disability benefits for depression can be a challenging process. Sometimes, the path to proving depression as a disability can be difficult, as with other mental disorders, like anxiety or bipolar disorder. Proving that you have regular, severe symptoms that prevent you from working is the best way to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
Depression is one of several hidden disabilities, like an anxiety disorder or intellectual disability, that can make qualifying for Social Security disability benefits challenging. However, it’s not impossible. An individual can qualify for disability benefits if they exhibit at least five of the following symptoms or can prove consistent and significant impairments to their daily ability to function due to their depression.
Perhaps the most telling symptom of severe depression is a relatively consistent depressed mood. People with depression may often seem to others as sad, irritable, or gloomy, but they usually are unable to pull themselves out of their so-called funk. However, those without depression may find it difficult to understand why their loved one can’t just be happy.
An overwhelming feeling of sadness, even during moments that should be exciting or happy, is a tell-tale symptom of depression. Brief times of happiness can also get clouded by sadness quickly, retreating a person back to a depressive state of mind.
Fatigue is a common symptom of depression, whether a person experiences depression short-term or long-term. Sleep disorders associated with depression, like insomnia and hypersomnia, can cause fatigue, but medications and stress can also influence one’s energy.
Decreased energy and a lack of sleep can also contribute to worsened depressive symptoms, keeping an individual on a cycle of chronic fatigue that can be difficult to break.
Sleep loss is a leading cause of fatigue in people with depression. Disrupted sleep can happen from overwhelming stress, medications to control symptoms, or an underlying sleep problem. Chronic sleep loss can lead to health issues like obesity, diabetes, heart trouble, stroke, and lowered immunity.
To improve sleep, people with depression can try adding in more physical activity to their days, making over their diet, and following a set schedule of waking and going to bed. Finding time during the day to unwind should also be a priority to combat stress interfering with sleep.
Depression can overwhelm a person’s brain, cloud their thoughts, and disrupt their judgment. It’s not uncommon for people with depression to experience memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and impaired decision-making ability.
Psychologist Natascha Santos tells Everyday Health, “Research has suggested that processing speed – the ability to take in information quickly and efficiently – is impaired in individuals who are depressed.” Cognitive challenges can help diagnose depression and make it easier for a disability claim to be approved.
While not all people who live with depression have suicidal thoughts, many do. Research shows that in as many as 60% of suicides, major depression is a primary risk factor. In people with depression, a small negative thought can quickly expand into suicidal thoughts that they feel they have no control over.
A person’s environment can also influence suicidal thoughts. For instance, having weapons in the home, living in a traumatic environment, and not having a support system can make it easier for negative thoughts to spiral out of control.
When determining a disability for depression, the SSA considers chronic guilt to be a qualifying symptom. A person with excessive guilt might constantly feel worthless, helpless, and insignificant. They may take the blame for things they didn’t do or feel like they’re responsible for how others feel.
Chronic guilt can eat away at one’s ability to form and build relationships and function healthily in society. Anxiety often occurs with chronic guilt, which can cause mood changes, muscle tension, and digestive problems, among other physiological issues.
A loss of appetite itself doesn’t always point to depression, as it can also stem from an illness, anxiety, and other causes. However, a loss of appetite accompanied by a quick and significant weight change can signal depression, especially when it occurs alongside other depression symptoms.
A person with depression is not necessarily trying to lose weight, but may not have the drive to eat enough food each day, subsequently leading to weight loss. Sleep disruptions, anxiety, and a loss of interest in their environment can also contribute to a loss of appetite.
Some people with depression have more of an appetite than they once did, sometimes even using food as a comfort for their symptoms. A quick and significant weight gain can point to depression as much as a similar weight loss.
People with depression may experience “anhedonia,” a condition in which they lose interest in hobbies or activities they used to enjoy. A person who found pleasure in artisically painting may no longer feel motivated to pick up a paintbrush, or can’t find joy in painting when they try. A person who experiences anhedonia may also pull away from people they were once close to.
The SSA considers behavioral changes when determining the claim. Specifically, the SSA looks at “psychomotor behaviors,” which refer to the movements your body makes when you consciously think about them. With depression, a person’s cognitive state can interfere with these usual behaviors and brain-body connections.
Psychomotor agitation happens when processes speed up, causing behaviors like pacing around a room, excessive talking, and restlessness. Psychomotor retardation occurs more often with depression. This disruption causes slowed behaviors, like slurred speech, slow reaction times, difficulty feeding oneself, or learning and working challenges.
If psychomotor behaviors become disruptive to everyday tasks, a person’s doctor may suggest additional medications or treatments.
The Social Security Administration offers monetary compensation to people with proven disabilities in the form of Social Security disability benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is for disabled persons with a qualifying work history who are no longer able to work due to their disability. The SSA also provides Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for low-come children and adults.
SSDI and SSI benefits help people with various disabilities, including mental illness, anxiety, and physical disability. Clinical depression may also qualify, but it can be a bit more challenging to prove than, say, a physical disability.
The SSA typically requires that people with a depressive disorder exhibit at least five of the depressive symptoms named in its evaluation criteria, which we’ve listed above. Each symptom mentioned in an application for Social Security benefits should have medical evidence submitted with it that documents that symptom and its severity.
Additionally, the SSA may approve a depression disability claim if an individual has enough medical evidence to prove that their depressive symptoms cause a functional disability. To qualify, an individual should have documented clinical depression for at least two years and prove that they’ve consistently attended therapy or participated in treatments to improve symptoms. For the most part, they should be unable to adapt to changes in daily routines and activities.
To apply for disability benefits through the Social Security program, you can call the SSA, fill out an application online, or visit a local office in person. Prepare to write a statement describing how your depression affects your life, what symptoms you experience daily, and what treatments you’ve tried or are currently using.
Gather any medical evidence you have to support your claim. You must furnish your basic information, healthcare provider information, and a list of your current medications. It generally takes 3-5 months to get a decision from the SSA.
If you need help applying, consider requesting the help of a disability lawyer. A disability lawyer has experience working through the Social Security disability system. An experienced attorney understands disability discrimination laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and knows how to help eligible people with a mental health condition be approved for benefits.
Drugs and alcohol use could affect whether you are eligible to receive SSI or SSDI for your depression symptoms. SSDI and SSI benefits will only be paid to individuals with depression that isn’t caused by alcohol or drug use. The SSA calls alcohol or drug use that causes a functional limitation like depression or anxiety a material factor in the condition.
If your depression stems from your alcohol or drug use, then you likely will not qualify for disability benefits. However, if the SSA determines that you will probably still have depressive symptoms after you stop drinking or using drugs, then you may qualify. In this case, your substance use may not be seen as a material factor for your depression. This could happen when people have depression before using alcohol or drugs, for example, and the usage exacerbates their symptoms.
It can be even more challenging to qualify for disability benefits when you have a proven history of drug or alcohol use, but it’s not impossible. The best way to ensure that your disability claim gets a fair chance at approval is to furnish medical records documenting your history of severe depression. Enlisting the help of a disability lawyer can also improve your overall chances of receiving benefits.
Yes, depression can be considered a qualifying disability by the SSA if a person has at least five of the above symptoms or has severe symptoms that impact their day-to-day activities. Filing an SSA disability claim is important, especially if your symptoms affect your ability to work. Reach out to an SSDFacts Advisor if you need help filing your claim.
If you feel dangerously depressed or suicidal, get help immediately. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).