Can those with a mental illness apply for disability benefits?

by Oct 13, 2016

Home » FAQs » Can those with a mental illness apply for disability benefits?

Those suffering from mental illnesses in Knoxville facing a stigma that they should just “toughen up, and get over it.” Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Mental illnesses can be just as disabling, and outside a person’s control as physical ailments. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes this, and includes certain mental illnesses in its Listing of Impairments.

Some mental illnesses that fall under this category include bipolar disorder, anxiety issues, depression, mental retardation, autism and schizophrenia. If a person with a mental illness falls under one of these categories, cannot fulfill enough “substantial gainful activity” and meets the other requirements, they may be able to apply for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.

That being said, mental illnesses can be more complicated to assess than physical ailments. The applicant needs to provide an accurate description of his or her symptoms and must also follow his or her physician’s prescribed treatment. Moreover, some mental illnesses are not always constant, but tend to come and go, meaning that the applicant may not be exhibiting symptoms of his or her mental illness at the same time as he or she is undergoing the SSD benefits application assessment. Therefore, the SSA often has to base its decision as to whether to award benefits based on the applicant’s medical records, his or her activities of daily living questionnaire and information from those familiar with the applicant, such as friends and relatives.

In addition, the SSA needs to examine the applicant’s “residual functional capacity” (RFC) to determine whether the applicant’s mental illness affects his or her ability to carry out substantial gainful activity. The RFC analyzes what types of work the applicant has the ability to perform despite his or her mental illness. There are four levels of RFC, which will determine the amount of SSI benefits an applicant will receive.

In the end, it is just as possible for a person with a mental illness to find it is absolutely as debilitating as a physical illness would be. For this reason, some people with a mental illness may want to seek SSD benefits. To do so, they should make sure they fully understand the application process, as this post cannot serve as the basis for an application or guarantee any particular result.

Source:, “Mental Health Disability Claims,” accessed on Sept. 17, 2016