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Schizophrenia and Social Security Disability

Schizophrenia - Condition and Symptoms

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness in which the person affected suffers a disintegration of mental and emotional processes, making it difficult to differentiate between reality and delusion. Schizophrenics have a difficult time behaving normally in social situations and may also have trouble taking care of themselves. The illness usually develops slowly and it may take months or even years to cause totally disabling symptoms.

The onset of Schizophrenia is not understood. It usually begins in young adulthood, but can appear in childhood or in later adulthood. Factors that may have a part in causing the illness are genetics, environment, infection, or family dysfunction. There are four major types of Schizophrenia:

  1. Paranoid Schizophrenia
  2. Catatonic Schizophrenia,
  3. Disorganized Schizophrenia
  4. Undifferentiated Schizophrenia

Residual Schizophrenia is a term that refers to a situation in which an individual has the majority of their symptoms under control but still manifests residual symptoms.

Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed by psychiatrists rather than medical doctors, and diagnosis is generally based on verbal interviews conducted with both the person suffering from the illness, and with close family members of the patient. The psychiatrist will evaluate the symptoms described, how the behavior of the person has changed since the symptoms were noticed, the person’s medical and family history, and his or her response to the medication that has been prescribed to treat the symptoms. There are no medical tests that diagnose Schizophrenia, but a diagnosing psychiatrist may order a CT scan of the head in order to rule out other physical conditions that might cause similar symptoms.

Schizophrenia may have a variety of symptoms. Because Schizophrenia develops slowly, symptoms may at first be so mild they are almost unnoticeable or resemble common ailments such as tension, insomnia, or trouble concentrating. Symptoms of the condition such as social withdrawal or difficulty making and keeping friends are often incorrectly attributed to shyness or social ineptness. As the disease progresses, however, psychotic symptoms tend to appear. These include hallucinations, delusions, flat affect (the appearance of no emotion), catatonic behavior (withdrawal from the environment), and disordered thinking.

In addition, the various types of Schizophrenia are often characterized by other condition-specific symptoms, including the following:

  1. Catatonic Schizophrenia – negative emotions, rigid muscles, agitation, decreased ability to feel pain, and inability to care for oneself.
  2. Paranoid Schizophrenia – anger, argumentativeness, and anxiety.
  3. Disorganized Schizophrenia – child-like and repetitive behaviors, inappropriate laughter, and incoherent speech.
  4. Undifferentiated Schizophrenia – includes symptoms of more than one type of Schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia treatment often includes hospitalization, antipsychotic medications to help control symptoms, and behavioral therapies. With treatment, many schizophrenics are able to curb their symptoms enough to function fairly well, usually in a supportive environment. Unfortunately, there are still many cases in which people diagnosed with Schizophrenia are never able to function and need long term care, sometimes due in large part to adverse reactions to prescribed medications.

Filing for Social Security Disability with a Diagnosis of Schizophrenia

The Social Security Administration (SSA) covers the application for disability benefits under a diagnosis of Schizophrenia under Section12.03 Schizophrenic, Paranoid, and Other Psychotic Disorders.

In order to qualify for disability benefits based on Schizophrenia, an individual must be able to demonstrate that he or she suffers from:

  • Delusions or hallucinations; or
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior; or
  • A pattern of incoherent or illogical thinking (as evidenced by inappropriate mood or flat speech, etc.); or
  • Emotional isolation and withdrawal from social interaction.

You must also be able to prove, with medical documentation, that your symptoms severely limit your ability to engage in normal daily activities, and to achieve and maintain gainful employment. If your symptoms are not severe enough for you to require full time care, but are still severe enough to keep you from working, the SSA lists a second set of requirements that make you eligible to get disability benefits. These are:

  1. Your medical records must show that you have a psychotic disorder that has lasted at least two years and has had a negative impact on your ability to work.
  2. You must be able to show that you cannot function in the world without a great deal of outside support; i.e., you must need to stay in a home environment and be unable to seek out or keep a job, or you must require assisted living arrangements, etc.

Although medical records are often specific as to symptoms and resulting limitations, they often do not describe exactly how a condition prevents you from working, and therefore may not be sufficient for proving total disability according to the SSA. Because Schizophrenia is a complicated disorder and because it is difficult for medical records alone to prove your inability to maintain gainful employment, it is often highly advisable that claimants hire a Social Security Disability attorney or disability advocate to help you formulate and present your case.

Your Schizophrenia Disability Case

If you are disabled because of Schizophrenia so severely that it prevents you from working, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits according to the Blue Book definition of the Social Security Administration. Although total disability based on a diagnosis of Schizophrenia can be difficult to prove based on medical records alone, working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation in front of the SSA can help to ensure that your Schizophrenia disability case will have the highest possible chance of success. You can also find out more by filling out a quick and free evaluation form regarding your case.