How Does the SSA Assess Mental Health Disorders?

While mental illness can be somewhat subjective, the Social Security Administration has a formal process for evaluating the severity of an applicant’s mental impairment. If you or a loved one has a mental condition that’s limited or taken away the ability to work, you need to learn about how eligibility is determined and what the evaluation process involves.

What Disorders Qualify?

Currently, the SSA recognizes eight different categories of mental health disorders. They are:

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  • Organic disorders, such as amnesia and dementia
  • Psychotic disorders, such as paranoia and schizophrenia
  • Affective disorders, such as depression
  • Mental retardation
  • Anxiety disorders, including panic and phobic disorders
  • Somatoform disorders, such as hypochondriasis
  • Personality disorders (which may or may not overlap with psychotic disorders)
  • Developmental disorders, such as autism

What Evidence Is Required?

Like other health conditions, the quality of evidence provided to support a mental health claim can significantly strengthen a case. While specific conditions may require certain types of additional evidence, there are common forms of evidence the Social Security Administration requires for virtually all cases involving a mental health disorder.

The main evidence required is medical documentation showing an applicants’ full mental health history. This documentation needs to include how the disorder was diagnosed, details of psychological testing, attempts at treatment and any hospitalizations. Mental health therapeutic progress notes detailing a person’s ongoing symptoms and response to treatment are especially important. Some treatment facilities will not release mental health progress notes without a special signed authorization form from the patient.

When collecting medical evidence to build a case for Social Security disability, remember it needs to demonstrate that the condition has or will cause limitations to your or your loved one’s ability to work for at least 12 months. When building your case, a mental and physical disability lawyer can help ensure you are not missing any important information that will help support your case.

Does Severity Matter?

Yes, the SSA specifically assesses the severity of a disorder. This begins with whether or not a disability applicant is capable of completing daily living activities such as buying necessities and taking care of basic hygiene needs. The next component of this assessment is how well the applicant can handle social interactions.

Another key component in the severity assessment is determining if an applicant is able to concentrate on tasks for an extended period of time. The purpose of this component of the assessment is to
As some mental health conditions are episodic in nature, a severity assessment will also take into account if the disorder causes the applicant to experience episodes in which their symptoms are significantly worse than normal (for example, experiencing “good days” and “bad days.”) All of these components are taken into account and used to determine if someone’s condition is severe enough to prevent working.

Because navigating the intricacies of a mental health disability case can be even more challenging than a physical one, if you have any additional questions about this issue or need professional help with your case, don’t hesitate to contact Lisa M. Ritacco to schedule a free consultation.