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What Mental Illnesses Qualify for Disability?

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The Social Security Administration has outlined a set of mental disorders that qualify for disability. These mental disorders are arranged in 11 categories for the purpose of disability evaluation. To qualify for disability, an individual must have a disorder listed in one of these 11 categories and must meet certain additional criteria. 

However, sometimes, even if a mental health disorder does not fall into these categories, it may be possible to qualify for disability. To get disability benefits, the person must prove, with the help of an attorney or referral service, that they cannot do even a simple, unskilled job due to their mental illness. 

Please continue reading to learn more about mental disorders and social security disability benefits.

What mental illness is considered a disability?

The Social Security Administration uses The Blue Book to establish guidelines to evaluate mental disorders that qualify for social security disability benefits. The social security disability listings include mental disorders arranged in 11 categories in The Blue Book. 

Neurocognitive disorders

This category includes mental disorders such as memory disturbances, impairment in higher-cognitive processes, disorders affecting language, speech, insight, or judgment, Alzheimer’s dementia, and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Huntington’s disease. 

Neurodevelopmental disorders

These are mental disorders that typically have an onset during childhood and adolescence but may not be diagnosed until adulthood. Signs and symptoms may include learning difficulties, memory problems, impulse control, difficulty in organizing tasks, deficits in social skills, and repeated accidental injuries.

Schizophrenia and psychotic disorders

This category of mental health conditions includes delusions, hallucinations, catatonic behavior with a significant decline in the ability to function, social withdrawal, inappropriate behavior, odd mannerisms, mood disturbances, and paranoia.

Depressive, bipolar, and related disorders

This category for social security disability evaluation includes symptoms and mental disorders such as depression, sadness, loss of interest in most activities, social withdrawal, significant loss of ability to function, suicidal ideation, sleep disturbances, reduced impulse control, grandiosity, euphoria, and bipolar disorder.

Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders

Anxiety-related disorders and symptoms such as fear, worry, anxiety, apprehension, restlessness, hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and generalized anxiety disorder are included in this category of social security disability.

Intellectual disorder

The symptoms that may be eligible for a disability claim under this category include below-average intellectual functioning, poor social and practical skills, and deficits in adaptive functional capacity (historically referred to as mental retardation).

Somatic symptoms and related disorders

This category of mental illness for social security disability benefits includes physical symptoms such as fatigue, gastrointestinal symptoms, abnormal sensations, seizures, and anxiety about personal health.

Personality and impulse-control disorders

Personality disorders and symptoms that may qualify for social security disability include distrust, suspicion, social detachment, hypersensitivity, perfectionism, impulse control, and anger that is grossly out of proportion to any provocation.

Eating disorders

These are a type of mental illness characterized by preoccupation with body weight and shape, restricted calorie consumption, binge eating, self-induced vomiting, laxative misuse, social withdrawal, and mood disturbances. Mental disorders that may be eligible for social security disability benefits under this category include bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.

Autism spectrum disorders

Some of the mental disorders and symptoms that may be considered for social security disability benefits under this category include impairment in social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication skills, stagnation in development, unusual responses to sensory stimuli, short attention span, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and aggressiveness.

Trauma and stress-related disorders

These mental disorders are commonly called PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder and may qualify for social security disability. They include symptoms caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as distressing dreams, flashbacks, avoidance, diminished interest in activities, fear, anger, aggression, anxiety, and irritability.

Is it hard to get on disability for mental disorders?

Each listing in the social security disability categories has two paragraphs designated A and B. To qualify for disability you must satisfy the requirements of both paragraphs. Some listings have three paragraphs designated A, B, and C—to qualify for disability you must satisfy the requirements of paragraphs A and B or A and C.

To receive social security disability benefits for a mental health medical condition, you need to demonstrate objective medical evidence from an acceptable source that you have a medical disorder that is listed in the Blue Book and can be medically determined. The Social Security Administration will also assess the severity of your mental illness and its effect on your ability to function in a work setting. 

To this end, the Social Security Administration collects medical evidence from both medical and non-medical sources to see if you meet the criteria for disability. Medical sources include physicians, psychologists, and other health care providers as well as your medical record. Non-medical sources include evidence from you and people you know. Evidence is also collected from school, work, and related programs. The evaluation includes longitudinal medical evidence, i.e., your ability to function over time. The Social Security Administration also collects evidence of how well you function in supportive and unfamiliar situations. Also taken into account is the availability of services, support, and treatment and how they could affect your ability to function.

What conditions automatically qualify you for social security disability benefits?

Among the 11 Blue Book categories of mental disorders, seven are more directly associated with mental illness—Depressive and bipolar disorders, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, personality disorder and impulse control disorder, somatic symptoms, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The criteria that the Social Security Administration uses to determine your eligibility for disability is the presence of an impairment that prevents you from working for at least 12 months or could result in death.

The Social Security Administration will assess how your mental illness affects your ability to function in a work setting, including the ability to concentrate on tasks; understand, remember, and apply information; interact with coworkers; and manage behavior and emotions in the workplace. For a social security disability claim to have a good chance of being approved, your limitation should be rated extreme in at least one of these areas and marked as present in at least two areas. 

For some mental disorders, however, such as PTSD, depression, and schizophrenia, medical documentation that the condition is serious and persistent for at least two years may be considered instead.


1. https://www.aarp.org/retirement/social-security/questions-answers/mental-illness.html

2. https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/12.00-MentalDisorders-Adult.htm