Depression and Social Security Disability

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.


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 qualified Social Security disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation can ensure that your Depression disability claim will have the best possible chance of success.

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