Living with mental illness or an emotional disorder can make life difficult in many ways. For many people in Tennessee, a mental or emotional condition makes them unable to work. For these individuals, applying for Social Security disability benefits can help them obtain compensation for some of the income they have lost.

The Social Security Administration thoroughly reviews all applications for disability benefits. For purposes of mental disorders, their disability evaluation generally has two steps. The SSA first determines whether the documentation submitted by the applicant shows the presence of a medically substantiated mental impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year. The second step is an evaluation of the extent to which this impairment affects the individual’s ability to work.

The SSA maintains a listing of mental disorders which are divided into nine broad diagnostic categories. For each listed diagnostic category, the listing contains a diagnostic description and then a Paragraph A, which is a set of criteria which must be met for the individual’s disability to qualify for the listing. Paragraphs B and C of the listing set out the functional limitations related to the impairment, which may result in an inability to work. These functional limitations must be a result of the impairment described in Paragraph A.

Sometimes mental disorders or illnesses result in physical symptoms. In these cases the SSA can evaluate the mental disorder in light of the listings for physical body systems, applying a medical equivalence approach.

The application process for SSD benefits is complex and requires careful attention to detail. If you believe you or a loved one may be eligible for SSD benefits due to a mental condition, consulting an attorney who practices in this area may be an important first step.

Source: Social Security Administration, “Disability Evaluation Under Social Security: 12.00 Mental Disorders – Adult,” accessed Dec. 15, 2014

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