Is Depression a Disability? Social Security Disability in 2024

Table of Contents: 

What is Depression?

Depression is a serious condition that impacts millions of people. Depression is a mood disorder characterized by a depressed, low, or “blue” mood that lasts more than a few days. 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. 

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.  

Symptoms of Depression 

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 

Types of Depression

Several types of depression may qualify individuals for disability benefits, including major depressive disorder (also known as clinical depression), persistent depressive disorder (also known as dysthymia), and depression associated with another medical condition. Moreover, individuals experiencing depression as part of bipolar disorder may also be eligible for benefits. 

While major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder are prevalent, it's important to recognize that depression encompasses various forms. A common feature across many mood disorders is the occurrence of major depressive episodes, a characteristic shared by bipolar disorder as well. 

For more details on disability benefits related to bipolar disorder, please refer to our dedicated resource.  

Major Depressive Disorder (Clinical Depression) 

  • What it is: Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and a lack of pleasure or interest in daily activities.
    Possible causes: Genetics, brain chemistry, hormonal imbalances, stressful life events, trauma, and certain medical conditions can contribute to major depressive disorder. 
  • Symptoms: Symptoms might include persistent sadness, fatigue, changes in weight or appetite, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and thoughts of suicide or death. 
  • Impact on everyday life: Major depressive disorder can significantly impair daily functioning, leading to difficulties in work, relationships, and self-care. 
  • SSDI qualification: Major depressive disorder can qualify for SSDI if it meets the severity criteria outlined in the Social Security Administration's Blue Book, demonstrating significant functional impairment. 
  • Other important info: Treatment typically involves a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. 

Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)  

  • What it is: Persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia, involves chronic feelings of sadness and hopelessness lasting for at least two years. 
  • Possible causes: Similar to major depressive disorder, causes of persistent depressive disorder may include genetics, brain chemistry, trauma, and stressful life events. 
  • Symptoms: While symptoms of persistent depressive disorder are similar to those of major depressive disorder, symptoms of persistent depressive disorder may be less severe and more persistent over time, as well as include low self-esteem, sleep disturbances, and fatigue. 
  • Impact on everyday life: Persistent depressive disorder can impact daily functioning and quality of life, often resulting in difficulties maintaining relationships and fulfilling work or school obligations. 
  • SSDI qualification: Persistent depressive disorder may qualify for SSDI if it meets the eligibility criteria and results in significant functional impairment. 
  • Other important info: Treatment may involve therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes, similar to major depressive disorder. 

Depression Due to Another Medical Condition 

  • What it is: Depression due to another medical condition refers to depressive symptoms that arise as a result of another underlying medical condition, such as chronic illness or neurological disorders. 
  • Possible causes: Chronic pain, cancer, stroke, Parkinson's disease, and other medical conditions can contribute to depression. 
  • Symptoms: Symptoms may vary depending on the underlying condition but often include sadness, fatigue, changes in appetite, and difficulty sleeping. 
  • Impact on everyday life: Depression related to another medical condition can exacerbate existing symptoms and impair daily functioning. 
  • SSDI qualification: SSDI eligibility may depend on the severity of both the medical condition and the associated depression, as outlined in the Blue Book. 
  • Other important info: Treatment may involve addressing the underlying medical condition in addition to managing depressive symptoms. 

Postpartum Depression 

  • What it is: Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a type of depression that occurs after childbirth, affecting mothers and sometimes fathers. 
  • Possible causes: Hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, and the stress of caring for a newborn can contribute to PPD. 
  • Symptoms: Symptoms may include feelings of sadness, irritability, difficulty bonding with the baby, and thoughts of harming the baby or oneself. 
  • Impact on everyday life: PPD can significantly impact a parent’s ability to care for themselves and their child, leading to challenges in daily functioning. 
  • SSDI qualification: PPD may qualify for SSDI if it meets the eligibility criteria and results in significant functional impairment. 
  • Other important information: Early detection and intervention are crucial for effective treatment of PPD, which may involve therapy, medication, and support groups. 

Further Reading: Postpartum Depression and Social Security Disability Benefits 

Depression as a Component of Bipolar Disorder  

  • What it is: People who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder have mood swings involving both highs (called mania if bipolar is severe or hypomania if bipolar is mild) and lows (bipolar depression). When individuals experience the lows of bipolar disorder (i.e., bipolar depression), their symptoms are typically quite similar to those that a person with major depressive disorder (also referred to as “unipolar depression” in this case) may experience. 
  • Possible causes: Genetic predisposition, brain chemistry, and environmental factors contribute to bipolar disorder. 
  • Symptoms: Depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder are similar to those in major depressive disorder but occur alongside periods of elevated mood, energy, and impulsivity during manic or hypomanic episodes. 
  • Impact on everyday life: Bipolar depression can lead to significant impairments in daily functioning during depressive episodes and may also impact relationships and work performance during manic or hypomanic episodes. 
  • SSDI qualification: Bipolar disorder, including its depressive component, may qualify for SSDI if it meets the eligibility criteria outlined in the Blue Book and results in significant functional impairment during depressive episodes. 
  • Other important info: Treatment often involves mood stabilizers, antidepressants, therapy, and lifestyle management to stabilize mood and reduce the frequency and severity of episodes. 

Further Reading: Is Bipolar A Disability? 

It's important to note that eligibility for SSDI depends on various factors, including the severity of symptoms, functional impairment, and documentation from healthcare providers. Meeting the criteria outlined in the Social Security Administration's Blue Book for mental disorders is crucial for qualification. Additionally, seeking professional guidance from a healthcare provider or disability advocate can help navigate the SSDI application process effectively. 

Causes & Diagnosis of Depression 

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, how severe they are, and if you or anyone in your family has been treated for depression in the past. 

Depression can be caused by both environmental and genetic factors and by the way a person has learned to deal with stress. 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. 

Treatments for Depression 

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 Disabilities 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. 

Can You Get SSI Benefits 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 benefits like SSDI or SSI benefits. 

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. 

Resources Needed to File for SSI Benefits for Depression 

To file for SSI benefits for depression, 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 benefits 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 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. 

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

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. 

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: 

  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. 

Additional Resources