Social Security Disability Benefits for Mental Illness – As a social work intern for patients with mental illness in Los Angeles county, I have met with many people who have applied for or are currently receiving Social Security benefits due to a mental health condition. Acquiring monthly disability benefits for a mental health problem can be a long and frustrating process. The U.S. government currently only approves 37% of all initial disability claims, and the numbers for mental health claims are even lower. Obtaining the benefits that you’re entitled to can be a lengthy process, but worthwhile if you can reach that final step of approval.
Those who examine your case to determine your eligibility will look at your work history along with your medical records. They want to determine whether or not you are now able to do the same jobs that you’ve done in the past with the mental disability that you have now. If the worker determines that you are no longer able to do work you have previously done, he/she will then investigate whether the skills you still have can be transferred to another type of work. To see the list of mental disorders currently eligible for disability compensation, go to: http://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/12.00-MentalDisorders-Adult.htm
The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers disability benefits through two different programs:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is available to disabled individuals who have been paying into the system through their payroll checks for a determined amount of time. Each individual’s requirements will be slightly different based on your age and how long you’ve been working. Generally, you will need to have been paying into the system for about half of your adult life.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is available to disabled individuals with limited financial resources. You do not need to have been paying into the social security system for a determined amount of time to receive SSI.
In some cases, you may be able to receive both SSI and SSDI benefits.
- Familiarize Yourself with the System: Even though I don’t recommend applying for Social Security benefits on your own, it’s a good idea to get an overview of the process. The first thing to do is to go to the Social Security Administration’s website to read the general instructions on applying for disability. Visit www.ssa.gov and click on the disability tab to get more information.
- Keep Excellent Documentation: Perhaps the most important thing that you can do to improve your chances of getting your disability application approved is to collect and keep documentation of your illness-anything that you can use to show your history of treatment for mental illness. Ask your mental healthcare providers to write you a letter stating what they are treating you for. Your psychiatrist, psychotherapist, social worker, and/or case workers should be able to write you a brief statement showing that you have been coming to them for services and stating how long you have been coming for services.
- Know Your Symptoms: Because disability due to mental illness can be more difficult to prove than physical disability, you will need to have a good understanding of how your disability directly affects your ability to work. With mental health, one of the main factors that the determiner will look at whether you can complete “simple routine repetitive tasks” (SSRTs). SSRTs are especially difficult for individuals with mental illness because they may have difficulty focusing and concentrating on one task. To receive disability benefits for a mental illness, your symptoms must be documented as chronic and persistent. Disability specialists will also look at the severity of your symptoms to determine eligibility.
- Stay Calm, But Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge the System:The sad truth is that many workers employed in the social services field are burnt out, overwhelmed and totally exhausted. Because of this, many of them may not feel motivated to go the extra mile to get your claim approval. It can be incredibly frustrating and stressful, especially if you’re already suffering from psychiatric symptoms. When you’re scheduled to interact with Social Security personnel, take a deep breath, and anticipate that you may have to be extremely patient and persistent if your claim is to be processed successfully.
5.Ask for Help: The application and appeal processes for SSI/SSDI is a long and complicated one, and definitely not something that you should try to do alone. Social workers and case managers are trained and experienced with navigating bureaucratic systems. Many community mental health centers offer assistance applying for these benefits free or charge.
6.Anticipate Delays: In some cases, it may take 1-2 years or longer to actually receive social security benefits for your mental disability. In the meantime, you may be able to collect temporary disability benefits from your state. Eligibility requirements vary by state, so check with your state Department of Labor’s website.