Depression and Social Security Disability (Updated for 2023)

Depression is a serious condition that impacts millions of people. There are several symptoms of depression—fatigue, a sense of hopelessness, and anxiety—that can make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for those who have depression to work. 

If you have been diagnosed with depression, and you anticipate that you will not be able to work for at least 12 months as a result of your depression, you can get disability for depression by filing a disability benefits claim with the Social Security Administration. Disability benefits for depression can be utilized to help cover the costs of medical bills and basic living expenses so that you can focus on yourself and your mental health when you're too sick to work instead of worrying about making ends meet.   

Depression - Condition and Symptoms

Depression is a mental disorder characterized by depressed, low, or “blue” mood that lasts more than a few days. Depressed people often lose interest in activities they formerly found pleasant, feel hopeless and sad, and suffer from low self-esteem. Their sleep is often disturbed with the person either suffering insomnia or sleeping excessively. Depressed people have low energy and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms can either be chronic or cyclical. A depressed person has difficulty relating to others, taking care of daily activities, and fulfilling their responsibilities at work. In the most severe cases, depression can even lead to the contemplation of suicide.

Most Depression is situational, with symptoms subsiding after a few days or a few weeks. In cases of Clinical Depression, however, depressed feelings and hopelessness become overwhelming and last for long periods of time, from months to years. Depression can be caused by both environmental and genetic factors and by the way a person has learned to deal with stress.

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In diagnosing Depression, your doctor will start with a thorough physical exam to rule out other conditions that can cause depressive symptoms, such as reaction to certain medications or illnesses. Your doctor will take a physical and family history and will discuss your symptoms with you. He or she will want to know when your symptoms began and how severe they are and if you or anyone in your family has been treated for Depression in the past. A history of drug or alcohol use is also significant, as they can either cause or be used to mask the symptoms of Depression. There is no specific medical test used for diagnosing Depression. Instead, your doctor will look at the overall pattern and severity of your symptoms.

Symptoms of Clinical Depression may include some or all of the following:

  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Restlessness
  • Overeating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities and people
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness and pessimism
  • Sleep patterns disturbed (insomnia, waking early, or sleeping excessively)
  • Diffused anxiety
  • Feeling “empty”
  • Thoughts of suicide

Depression is highly treatable, with antidepressant medications and psychotherapy proven effective for up to 80% of those affected. Holistic treatments include changes in diet and level of exercise, exposure to sunlight, and social changes, such as becoming a member of a social group.

Is Depression A Disability?

Depression is considered a disability by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Depression can affect your ability to do day to day work, such as your job. If your depression is so severe that you are unable to work, the SSA may consider your depression a disability and you will be able to earn Social Security disability.

To qualify for disability benefits, you must have supporting medical evidence that shows you meet the criteria of the Blue Book listing, you are unable to work for at least 12 months, and you have earned enough credits to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). In general, you must have worked the equivalent of 5 years full-time out of the last 10 years.

You will need a detailed work history, your driver’s license or other photo identification, your Social Security card, and other documentation, such as a birth certificate, to confirm your identity and to prove that you do qualify for benefits from the SSA.

You will need documentation to support your claim, such as a residual functional capacity (RFC) form completed by your physician. The RFC will fully detail what you can and cannot do, so the disability examiner will be able to determine if you can work, and if you are capable of work, what kind of work you can do.

You should continue receiving medical care and provide a list of healthcare providers to support your claim. Records from doctors, therapists, psychiatrists, and so forth can all be helpful in supporting your disability claim for depression.

Depression is a common condition, and many people are so affected by the condition that they are unable to work and earn a living. To have a claim approved, you need evidence to support your claim and to show the severity of the condition.

Can You Get Disability For Depression?

If you have depression and it impacts your ability to work full time, then you may be able to get Social Security disability beneifts like SSDI or SSI benefits.

You will need to provide exam notes, any mental testing records, reports from your therapist or counselor, and notes from any psychiatrist or psychologist who has treated your condition. The more evidence and documentation that you can provide, the more likely you are to have a successful claim.

A residual functional capacity (RFC) form completed by your physician can be essential to the success of your disability claim. It will detail what you can and cannot do physically and mentally. When it involves depression, it will detail your ability to focus, if you have difficulty concentrating, your memory skills, your social skills, and your overall mental state.

It will help the disability examiner get a full picture of what you can and cannot do. The RFC can help the disability examiner determine if you meet the criteria of disabled and qualify for disability benefits.

You will need to provide medical records detailing your treatment and whether it has helped. As an example, any prescription drugs you have taken, if you have undergone therapy, and whether the treatment has helped in any way.

You must show that you have adhered to the physician’s treatment plans, but you are still disabled despite trying to seek treatment and trying to recover. Documentation is essential to your disability claim for depression.

Take our Social Security calculator to see how much you could get with disability benefits.

Filing for Social Security Disability with a Diagnosis of Depression

While the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not have a separate listing for Depression in its Impairment Listing Manual, or “Blue Book,” the condition is considered under Section 12.04 Affective Disorders.

To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits on the basis of an affective disorder, your medical records must satisfy at least one of the following two sets of criteria.

The first set of criteria:


  1. Your Depression must result in marked restrictions or difficulty in at least two of the following areas:
    1. Activities of Daily Living
    2. Social functioning
    3. Your ability to maintain concentration, persistence, or pace
    4. Repeated, extended occurrences of deterioration in your condition
  2. Your Depression must also result in at least four of the following, either occasionally or consistently:
    1. You are unable to experience pleasure or you have a pervasive loss of interest in nearly all activities
    2. Significant changes in eating habits and weight
    3. Sleep disturbances
    4. Agitation or retardation of psychomotor function
    5. Decreased energy levels
    6. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
    7. Suicidal thoughts
    8. Difficulty thinking or concentrating
    9. Hallucinatory episodes, delusions, or paranoid thinking

If you are unable to meet the first set of criteria, you may qualify for benefits by meeting each of the elements of a second set of criteria:

It is possible to be awarded either complete disability benefits or to be awarded a medical vocational allowance if you meet the requirements of the tests discussed above. Most people receive disability benefits under this heading in the form of a medical vocational allowance.

  1. You must have a medically documented history of Depression, lasting at least two years; AND
  2. Your medical records must show that your Depression has limited your ability to work (although there may be some improvement in your ability to work due to treatment with counseling or prescribed medicine); AND
  3. Your medical records must show you are subject to repeated, extended periods of time when your symptoms worsen.

    OR Your medical records must show evidence that the aftereffects of a disease cause worsening of your symptoms with even a minimal increase in mental demands or changes to the environment.

    OR Your medical records must provide evidence that your Depression is so severe that you are unable to live at least one year outside a ”highly supported living arrangement,” as well as evidence that this arrangement needs to be continued.

Your Depression Disability Case

If you are disabled because of Depression that prevents you from working, you may well be entitled to Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. Although you must meet stringent requirements in order to receive total disability based on a diagnosis of, working closely with medical professionals and a Social Security disability attorney or disability advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation can ensure that your Depression disability claim will have the best possible chance of success. If you are denied disability, an attorney can help you file an appeal.

Curious what conditions automatically qualify you for disability? Click here to find out.

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