Can I Qualify for Disability For Mental Illness?

Table of Contents 

What is Mental Illness? 

Mental illness is a term used to refer to a wide range of health conditions that affect one’s thinking, behavior, and emotions (mood). It is possible to be approved for benefits with a mental health condition. Mental illnesses can be associated with distress and/or problems functioning in work, family, or social activities. 

By law, the United States Social Security Administration (SSA) defines disability as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months” (SSA’s Definition of Disability). The SSA defines disabling mental illnesses in Section 12.00: “Mental Disorders - Adult” of the Blue Book—their own comprehensive medical guide used when evaluating applications for disability benefits.

Is Mental Illness a Disability?

Yes, mental illness is considered a disability by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the SSA if it impacts one’s ability to work or partake in normal tasks of daily life.

Mental illness is considered a disability by the ADA as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and by the SSA as an impairment that can last at least 12 months and makes it impossible to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). 

What Mental Illnesses Qualify for Disability?  

Any mental illness that makes it impossible for you to be able to work full time can qualify for disability. The most common mental illnesses that can qualify for disability are anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and many others. 

The Blue Book is used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to establish guidelines for which conditions qualify a claimant for Social Security disability benefits. Essentially, the Blue Book is the list of all the disabling conditions that the SSA sees as being debilitating enough to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. There are various mental health conditions listed in the SSA’s Blue Book including—but certainly not limited to—bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia. 

Section 12 of the Blue Book deals with mental disorders, detailing which types of mental disorders can qualify you for benefits, and under what circumstances. Many mental health conditions qualify for disability. There are nine categories of mental disorders covered in the Blue Book. These include: 

  • Affective Disorders
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Autism and Related Disorders
  • Intellectual Disabilities
  • Organic Mental Disorders
  • Personality Disorders
  • Schizophrenia, Paranoia, and Psychotic Disorders
  • Somatoform Disorders
  • Substance Addiction

Each type of disorder is evaluated according to its own set of criteria. Each of these nine categories listed above will be covered in more detail at the end of this guide. 

To qualify for benefits with your specific mental health condition, you must be able to show that your condition meets the Blue Book criteria, or that the sum total of all of your disabling conditions is equivalent to, the condition’s listed criteria in the Blue Book or otherwise completely hinders you from engaging in any gainful activity. 

Regardless of which type of mental health disability you are dealing with, you will need to be able to show that you are receiving—and complying with—treatment. 

It’s important that you continue to undergo treatment while you are in the process of claiming Social Security disability benefits. If you have a mental health condition and you think it will make it impossible for you to work full-time, then you may want to speak with a disability lawyer or disability advocate

Further Reading: Disability Lawyers Near Me 

How to Get Disability Benefits For Mental Health 

In order to get approved for disability benefits, you must demonstrate to the SSA that you are afflicted with a medical condition that renders you unable to engage in any sort of work (i.e., it’s impossible for you to work with your condition). Additionally, you must provide the SSA with evidence that you are receiving ongoing medical treatment for your mental health condition. 

Ensuring technical eligibility—i.e., you have the appropriate work history or meet the income limits for various disability programs—is a prerequisite. This involves collecting and submitting extensive paperwork to the SSA, attending any medical examinations mandated by the SSA, and sending in follow-up documentation and paperwork if asked by the SSA to do so. 

In addition to these fundamental steps, here are some additional—and more specific—recommendations that can enhance your likelihood of having a successful disability application. 

Further Reading: Am I Eligible for Disability 

Medical Requirements for Mental Illness 

In order to get disability benefits for a mental illness from the SSA, you must be able to meet the medical requirements for your condition. These requirements will be listed in the SSA’s Blue Book

Making sure your condition matches one of the listings in the Blue Book before you apply is important. This is because the SSA will conduct a thorough review of your medical records to determine whether or not you’re eligible for disability benefits. During this review, the SSA will try to match the medical records you submit to a disability listing in their Blue Book. Each disability listing in the SSA’s Blue Book outlines the specific medical evidence needed and the severity level requirements to support a claim for disability benefits. The SSA refers to the "Blue Book," a comprehensive medical guide, during this evaluation, focusing on disability listings that establish the severity level requirements and necessary medical evidence for each claim. 

Mental illnesses, categorized under Section 12.00 of the Blue Book, encompass various conditions such as anxiety-related disorders, personality disorders, and affective disorders. Specific listings include: 

  • 12.06, Anxiety-related Disorders: Eligibility may be established if you have a severe phobia, post-traumatic stress, panic disorder, or another anxiety-related condition.
  • 12.08, Personality Disorders: Severe clinical depression falls und
  • er this listing.
  • 12.04, Affective Disorders: Bipolar disorder applications are assessed under this listing. 

To qualify, comprehensive medical documentation is crucial. These medical documentation (i.e., medical records) include: 

  • Diagnosis information, preferably from a psychiatrist or psychologist.
  • Evidence of physical abnormalities through brain scans or other means that highlight an organic cause for your symptoms, if applicable.
  • Treatment records detailing therapy, medications, and other management methods you’ve used, along with their effects.
  • Well-documented instances of heightened symptoms or periods of decompensation.
  • Extensively recorded impacts of your symptoms on your day-to-day abilities or "activities of daily living" (ADLs). 

ADLs can encompass a range of tasks, from being able to interact with others to dressing yourself. If you’re able to prove to the SSA that your mental health condition makes it almost impossible for you to function outside your home, your chances of being approved for disability will be stronger. 

For most mental health conditions, proof of your adherence to your medication for at least two years without seeing any improvement in your mental illness is also necessary. 

Securing benefits for mental illnesses can be quite challenging, particularly if your mental illness or your situation doesn’t precisely meet a Blue Book listing. As such, you should anticipate a good fight to get approved and collaborate closely with your doctor when applying. This is because your doctor can help you comprehend the Blue Book requirements for your condition and, thereby, ensure your medical records contain the types of essential details required for an accurate SSA evaluation of your claim for benefits. 

To enhance your approval likelihood, be sure to compile the following information: 

  • ALL medical records, spanning hospitalizations to therapy sessions. Hospitalizations can help strengthen your disability case by supporting the severity of your disability.
  • Records and opinions from professionals, including doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, social workers, counselors, or any other contributors who’ve supported and/or helped you with your mental health condition.
  • A comprehensive list of your medications, their impact on symptoms, and any adverse side effects experienced. 
  • Pharmacy records detailing prescriptions related to your condition and the prescribing physician.
  • Names, addresses, phone numbers, patient ID numbers, and dates of examinations and treatments from all your providers. 

You should also avoid including medical records from providers who didn't treat you for your mental health condition (e.g., your podiatrist or chiropractor) in your disability application. Make copies of your medical records as a precautionary measure in case they’re lost by the SSA. It’s always important to have backups just in case you need them. 

Further Reading: What Documents Do I Need to Apply for Social Security Disability? 

If you can meet the medical requirements for your mental health condition outlined in the Blue Book, the SSA will likely consider your mental illness a disability and may approve your claim for benefits if you’re also able to meet the non-medical requirements for disability. 

Work Requirments for Mental Illness

Once you make sure you’ll medically qualify for disability benefits, you will also need to ensure that your mental illness is so severe that it prevents you from working full-time for at least one year (for SSDI only). 

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is the government’s disability benefits program for adult workers who are disabled and have contributed to Social Security by paying their Social Security taxes. Conversely, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based disability benefit program that’s exclusively for applicants who meet the stringent criteria for asset holdings and income. 

If you’ve never worked before as a result of your mental illness, you won’t be able to qualify for SSDI. Similarly, if you receive financial assistance from family or friends, you’ll likely have trouble meeting the criteria to qualify for SSI. 

Work Requirements for SSDI. If you’re applying for SSDI benefits for a mental illness, you will need to meet the following criteria to qualify in 2023: 

  • You’ve accumulated the sufficient number of work credits required by the SSA based on age from prior employment. 
    • Typically, you need 40 work credits—20 of which were earned in the last 10 years that ended with the year you became disabled—to qualify for SSDI. However, the specific number of work credits you will need is dependent on your specific age. To see how many work credits you will need to qualify for SSDI in 2023, click here
    • As of 2023, you earn 1 work credit for every $1,640 you earn from working each year. 
    • You can earn up to 4 work credits for each year that you work. In other words, once you have earned $6,560 in any given year, you will have earned your 4 work credits for that year. 
  • You have a medical condition that meets the SSA’s stringent disability definition and criteria. 

Work Requirements for SSI. Unlike SSDI, the SSI program does not have a work credit requirement for eligibility. This is because the SSI benefit program is based on financial need. As such, if you’re applying for SSI, you do not have to meet a certain work credit requirement to qualify. 

Financial Requirements for Mental Illness

To financially qualify for both SSDI and SSI in 2024, your earnings must fall below the substantial gainful activity (SGA) limit of $2,590 per month if you’re blind (up from $2,460 per month in 2023) and $1,550 per month if you’re not (up from $1,470 per month in 2023). 

However, since SSI is intended for those with limited income and minimal assets, it operates as a needs-based program that has additional (and stricter) financial requirements than SSDI. In other words, SSI has additional financial requirements—that go beyond the SGA limit—that must be met for the SSA to see you as eligible for these benefits. 

Financial eligibility for SSI benefits in 2023 is contingent upon adhering to the following additional income limits: 

  • Individuals must have unearned income* below $934 per month ($1,391 per month for couples). 
  • Those receiving SSI can earn up to $1,913 per month in "earned income"** ($2,827 per month for couples) and still receive SSI benefits. 
  • Assets should not exceed $3,000 for couples or $2,000 for individuals. 

*Unearned income includes funds received without active work, such as Social Security benefits, certain pension payments, veterans' compensation, workers' compensation, unemployment, etc

**Earned income refers to money earned through employment

Take our free disability evaluation to see if you qualify for disability. 

What Happens After You Get Approved for Mental Illness Disability? 

After you get approved for mental illness disability, you will begin to start receiving monthly disability benefits. 

You can spend that money on treatment related to your mental illness, doctors' appointments, medications, and basic day-to-day needs. 

You may also receive backpay from the SSA. Backpay is a lump sum of money that covers the period of time between the date you submitted your disability application to the SSA and the date you were approved for disability benefits. 

How Much Does Mental Health Disability Pay? 

For 2024, the maximum SSDI payment for adults with a mental health disorder is $3,822 per month (up from $3,627 in 2023). According to the SSA, the average monthly SSDI check for mental health disabilities is $1,483 in 2023. 

The maximum SSI payment for eligible individuals in 2024 is $943 per month (up from $914 per month in 2023) and $1,415 per month for couples (up from $1,371 per month in 2023). 

How much does mental health disability pay?

If you have a mental health condition, how much disability pays for a mental health condition also depends on factors such as: 

  • what type of benefit you’re getting (SSDI, SSI, or both), 
  • your income and asset holdings (especially if you’re applying for SSI benefits), 
  • where you live, 
  • etc. 

Usually, SSDI monthly payments from the SSA are larger than SSI monthly payments. To see how much money you could earn each month in disability benefits, use our Social Security Benefits Calculator. A disability lawyer can also tell you how much disability you can get each month

The SSA’s 9 Mental Illness Categories 

Affective Disorders 

The specific requirements to qualify for disability benefits with a mental illness vary with the type of affective disorder, but in general, you must have medical documentation showing that the disorder affects your ability to function despite undergoing treatment for the disorder. You must show either that you: 

Have been in treatment for two years and cannot function outside of a supportive environment or 

Have medical documentation giving sufficient evidence that your condition hinders you from reasonably being expected to function in any work environment. 

Anxiety Disorders 

To get disability with anxiety, the medical evidence must show that you have at least one of the following: 

  • Persistent anxiety with appropriate symptoms (i.e., motor tension, apprehensive expectation, etc.)
  • Constant irrational fear 
  • Recurring, unpredictable panic attacks at least weekly
  • Recurring compulsions and obsessions leading to significant distress 

In addition, the evidence must show that these conditions significantly impact your ability to function in normal work and social conditions. 

Further Reading: Is Anxiety A Disability? 

Autism and Related Disorders 

To qualify for disability benefits with autism or similar pervasive development disorders, you will need to show that the condition limits the ability to communicate, engage in activities outside of a few interests, and interact socially. Further, you must be able to show that these limitations cause significant difficulty in your ability to function in work and social situations. 

Further Reading: Is Autism A Disability? 

Intellectual Disabilities 

You (or one whom you represent) will qualify for mental disability benefits based on an intellectual disability if you have medical documentation showing any of the following conditions: 

  • Dependence for personal needs such as bathing, eating, getting dressed, and using the toilet.
  • IQ of less than 60
  • IQ of less than 70 combined with other conditions (mental or physical) that limit your ability to function in a work environment, your social situations, or your daily living activities 

Further Reading: Intellectual Disability Benefits 

Organic Mental Disorders 

To qualify for mental disability benefits with organic mental illness disorders, the medical evidence needs to show that your disorder has continued for two years or more despite treatment and that it hinders you from performing even basic work functions. Essentially, you need to show that you cannot function outside of a highly supportive environment. Alternatively, you may qualify if you have at least one condition from each of the columns in the chart below: 

Time and place disorientationSignificant limitation of daily living activities
Impaired memory (short or long term)Significant limitations in social situations
Hallucinations or delusionsDifficulty concentrating or keeping pace
Personality changesExtended and repeated periods of decompensation
Mood disturbancesLoss of 15 or more points of IQ
Lability of emotions 

Further Reading: How To Get Disability Benefits for Organic Mental Disorders 

Personality Disorders 

To qualify for mental disability benefits with a personality disorder, you need evidence showing that your condition causes you to be unable to adapt to social or work situations and that the condition has caused long-term problems. The disorder needs to cause at least one of these symptoms: 

  • Autistic thinking
  • Seclusion
  • Inappropriate hostility
  • Inappropriate suspiciousness
  • Odd thought, speech, behavior, or perception patterns
  • Aggressiveness
  • Dependence
  • Passiveness
  • Constant mood disturbances
  • Impulsive, damaging behavior, especially regarding relationships 
If you have a mental disorder, you may be able to get disability benefits

Psychotic Disorders (including Paranoia and Schizophrenia) 

To qualify for mental disability benefits with psychotic disorders, you must have medical documentation showing two years or more showing that your condition severely limits your ability to function in a work environment. 

The documentation must show that any change in your work situation would lead to more problems or that you are incapable of living outside of a supportive environment. 

Alternately, you may qualify if you have one of the following conditions and you can show that it severely affects your ability to function in a work or social environment: 

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Catatonia
  • Disorganized behavior
  • Incoherence
  • Illogical thinking
  • Speech is significantly affected by blunt effect, inappropriate affect, or flat affect
  • Isolation and emotional withdrawal 

Further Reading: Is Schizophrenia A Disability? 

Somatoform Disorders 

To qualify for disability with a somatoform disorder, you need medical documentation showing that, by age 30, you had a history of having unexplained physical symptoms that last for several years and that these symptoms require you to make significant changes to your lifestyle. You will generally qualify for disability if the symptoms involve loss of sight, hearing, speech, loss of movement, loss or heightening of sensation, or loss of use of one or more limbs. 

Further Reading: Somatoform Disorders and Social Security Disability 

Substance Abuse 

To qualify for mental disability benefits due to substance abuse issues, you will need medically documented evidence that your substance abuse issue causes you to meet the requirements for one of the other mental disorders, neurological disorders (evaluated in Section 11 of the Blue Book), or digestive disorders (Evaluated in Section 5 of the Blue Book). 

Further Reading: Is Drug Addiction A Disability? 

Other Conditions That Qualify For Mental Illness Disability

Get Help Applying for Mental Health Disability Benefits Today!  

Applying for disability benefits is unfortunately quite difficult and the process can take many months. Working with a disability lawyer can significantly increase your chances of getting approved for disability. According to data released by the SSA, disability claimants who worked with a disability lawyer had higher success rates (i.e., got approved for disability benefits) compared to those who did not work with a lawyer. 

To get connected and speak with a disability lawyer today at zero cost to you, complete the Free Case Evaluation form on this page right now.

Additional Resources