What Is Dysthymia and How Can I qualify For Disability Benefits?

Dysthymia is a milder but long-lasting form of depression that is also known as persistent depressive disorder (PDD). It can manifest like other forms of depression, but instead of being cyclical it can last for long periods of time, and even years on end.

If you suffer from dysthymia and are unable to work, you could qualify for Social Security disability benefits but only if you are able to provide documentation.

Here are some of the things you should be aware of when applying for disability benefits for dysthymia.

How Does Dysthymia Affect Ability to Work?

In order to be diagnosed with dysthymia, symptoms must be present for at least two years, whereas other forms of depression could last a few days or weeks. To that end, people who suffer from dysthymia feel like their depression is embedded into their minds, almost as if it is a personality trait. (This is partially what makes diagnosing dysthymia so challenging) In some cases, people can experience a depressive episode where their symptoms get worse for a period of time before returning to their baseline dysthymic state.

Dysthymia can be its own diagnosis or included in a more general depressive disorder.

Suffering from dysthymia can make working difficult because it can lead to challenges in motivation, problems sleeping, concentration problems and feelings of hopelessness, which will lead to problems performing even the most basic tasks. Without the ability to concentrate, for example, tasks that should take a few hours might never be done, which adds to the feeling of hopelessness.

Qualifying with Dysthymia

The Social Security Administration (SSA) utilizes the Blue Book, a comprehensive list of medical conditions, to help make decisions about whether someone’s diagnosis should qualify for disability benefits. Even if a condition isn’t listed, you can still qualify under a larger diagnosis.

When it comes to qualifying with dysthymia, you can refer to section 12.04, which covers Depressive, Bipolar and Related Disorders. Under the Blue Book, a depressive disorder is characterized by five or more of the following: depressed mood, diminished interest in almost all activities, appetite disturbance, sleep disturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or thinking and thoughts of death or suicide.

With dysthymia, you may suffer from some or all of these characteristics of depression but the key is that the symptoms last over a longer period of time, and that’s what makes dysthymia hard to manage in the workplace. You will need to provide a diagnosis from your physician, including all test results and your treatment plan, to support your claim when you apply.


If you don’t meet the criteria listed in the Blue Book, you could also qualify for disability benefits for dysthymia by using the residual functional capacity (RFC) analysis. The RFC is a form that your doctor completes on your behalf, and it outlines the specifics of your condition and why your condition prevents you from working.

Since you won’t be able to speak with the SSA evaluator working on your application, the RFC is a chance for you and your doctor to explain exactly how your dysthymia is impacting your ability to work.

For example, if you are unable to complete tasks in a timely manner and it leads to you having an increase in a sense of hopelessness, which leads to sleep and eating problems. The RFC will help paint a picture of your unique challenges and how your condition prevents you from being able to work.


Next Steps to Take

It can be incredibly stressful to apply for disability benefits on your own. You must gather all of the information and make sure that it is complete before submitting it, which can be a challenge. You might decide to work with a disability attorney who can help guide you through the process while ensuring that your application is complete and as strong as possible.

A disability attorney will understand what medical documentation should be provided based on the guidelines in the Blue Book, and he or she will help make sure that you include it in your application.

For more information about how a disability attorney can help with your claim, fill out a free case evaluation.

Additional Resources

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