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Disability Benefits for Depression

Depression is a very common mood disorder that causes consistent feelings of sadness, lack of interest, gloominess, insecurity, etc. Individuals who are suffering from depression may find work significantly difficult, if at all possible due to their condition. These individuals may qualify for one of the two Social Security Disability programs offered by the Social Security Administration (SSA).


About Depression

Depression is one of the most common diagnosed disorders in the United States with more than 3 million new cases per year. There are various forms of depression such as dysthymia, manic depression, and major depressive disorder. Each variation is treated in similar ways depending on the individual.

Clinical depression has both mental and physical symptoms. Mental symptoms typically include feelings of sadness, guilt, and hopelessness as well as difficulty concentrating on tasks and potential thoughts of suicide. Physical symptoms include changes in appetite, decreased energy levels, and inability to sleep.

Most people struggle with depression at some point in their lives because of unfortunate events such as the death of a loved one or separation from a significant other. However, these periods of depression tend to be short and situational where the individual will recover and is not a true case of clinical depression. If an individual has episodes of depression with severe daily symptoms that lasts longer than 2 weeks, he or she could have major clinical depression.


Qualifying for Disability with Depression

Generally it is very difficult to qualify for disability benefits with depression alone. The symptoms of depression are hard to prove and many people attempt to falsely claim they have depression to receive disability benefits. Most people who are approved for depression also have other conditions such as anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc.

For an individual with depression to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, his or her symptoms must meet the severity levels required by the SSA’s Blue Book in section 12.04 Affective Disorders. An applicant’s depressive disorder must satisfy requirements A and B or must satisfy requirement C in section 12.04. These requirements are listed in the SSA's Blue Book and can be found here:


If an individual with depression doesn’t meet the requirements of section 12.04, he or she can still be approved through a medical-vocational allowance. This means the Social Security Administration (SSA) will determine how the applicant’s condition of depression affects their ability to do unskilled work. To do this, the SSA will see if the applicant can perform SRRTs (simple, routine, repetitive tasks) as well as social functioning.

  • Simple: Can the applicant understand, remember and complete simple instructions?
  • Routine: Can the applicant handle changes in daily routine?
  • Repetitive: Can the applicant perform repetitive tasks without losing focus?


Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Applicants who have struggled with drug and/or alcohol addiction will have an incredibly difficult time being approved for disability benefits. This is because the SSA’s medical examiners will assume your symptoms are due to drug or alcohol abuse. To avoid this, before an applicant completes an application, he or she needs to be sober for a substantial time period (at least 6 months) and must have medical records during this period that proves they are clinically depressed without the usage of drugs or alcohol.


Mental Residual Functional Capacity

As stated above, qualifying for disability benefits with depression alone is very difficult and quite unlikely. However if you believe your depression is severe enough to still qualify, your best chances for approval is to have your doctor fill out a mental residual functional capacity (RFC) form. This form describes what tasks you are capable of in a work environment such as your ability to:

  • Communicate properly
  • Concentrate or think critically
  • Relate to others
  • Sit and stand
  • Focus and retain attention
  • perform tasks in a timely manner

The mental RFC is important because it tells the SSA why your condition prevents you from performing unskilled work from a doctor's perspective. If your doctor finds you are capable of unskilled work while filling out a mental RFC, your condition of depression will most likely not qualify for disability benefits by itself.


Receiving Assistance from an Advocate

To increase your chances of approval for disability benefits with depression, it is best to seek out representation from a disability advocate or attorney. This is because they are highly educated in Social Security Disability and know what exactly the Social Security Administration is looking for when approving depression cases. To learn more about representation from a disability advocate or attorney, visit our Advantages of Representation page.