Is Depression A Disability?

By Ashley Brown

Updated March 26, 2020

Reviewer Melinda Santa

People who suffer from depression often wonder, "Is depression a disability?" Sometimes depressive disorders can be so intense and life changing that they make it difficult to function, and you may find yourself unable to work. When that happens, it is natural to wonder if you might qualify for social security disability (SSD) or supplemental social security income (SSI). It is important to know exactly when depression is considered a disability, so you'll be able to figure out which of your thoughts, feelings, and actions are considered "normal," and which may be symptoms that impede social and occupational functioning. Keep reading for information on when depression is considered a disability.

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Is Depression a Disability?

The Social Security Administration considers depression to be a mental health disorder that may qualify an individual for disability. However, there are many factors that determine whether your specific experience of depression is a disability. A simple diagnosis of depression is not enough for SSA to consider you disabled for the purposes of collecting disability. Here, it is important to note that your depression may be considered a disability by other definitions. What you are trying to qualify for or accomplish determines when and by whom your depression is considered a disability.

Remember that there is always help out there when you are suffering from depression. Data from 2017 stated that of individuals in the US suffering with depression, 65% were successfully treated by seeing a doctor and taking medicine. This means there is hope, even if your depression is severe. We will discuss different types of depression, as well as how you can treat them, later in this article.

Depressive Disorders Considered a Disability

Two primary depressive disorders are considered disabilities. For you to claim that you have a disability, a doctor must diagnose you with one of these disorders, and you must receive treatment. Even if treatment is not ongoing or frequent because you are in remission, you must be able to show that you have been diagnosed with one of these disorders and received some type of treatment currently or in the past.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder is defined as depression that has several symptoms lasting at least two weeks. Typically, for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, several cycles of depression or depression lasting for longer periods of time are required. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depressive disorder is diagnosed when low mood and several other symptoms (e.g., hopelessness, irritability, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities) are present most of the day nearly every day for two weeks.


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It is important to note that for an illness to be considered a disability, it must severely impact your ability to function. Showing this level of impact in only two weeks is difficult. If you are seeking disability benefits or protections, you may need to establish that symptoms have persisted for much longer than two weeks.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

Persistent depressive disorder, also called dysthymia, is a condition where depressive symptoms last two years or more. For this diagnosis to be given, symptoms must persist consistently for at least two years. There may be cycles where symptoms are less severe, but they are always present.

ADA Disability Protections

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, commonly referred to as the ADA, offers protections to people with disabilities. Even if your disability is not severe and debilitating enough to prevent you from working altogether, you are still protected by the ADA. This means that your employer cannot discriminate against you due to your disability, and you must be allowed, among other things, to take time off for treatment as necessary.

There are other protections under the ADA as well; for example, state and local government agencies cannot discriminate against you because of your disability. Telecommunications and transportation organizations also cannot discriminate against you or must make accommodations for your disability. While you are under no obligation to report a disability to your employer or any other entity, it is important to understand that employers only have to accommodate those disabilities they are aware of. It is up to you to disclose your disability and request such accommodations as changes in schedule for treatment.

Evidence Required to Establish Disability for Benefits

If you are unable to work due to your depression, there are many different types of evidence you will have to present when you apply for benefits. It is not always easy to qualify, even if you are eligible for benefits. You will have to present a lot of documentation, and the process may take some time.

  • Medical Sources. Medical sources include information from doctors and therapists regarding your diagnosis and treatment. This is perhaps the most important type of evidence you will need to present. Your doctors will be asked questions about your ability to function, expectations for treatment, and the duration of your illness.
  • Evidence from School, Training, and Work-Related Programs. If you have gone to school, participated in training, or tried to go through work-related programs to continue in the workforce after facing depression, you will have to provide documentation of these programs. You will need to be able to show that you struggled and were unable to meet requirements because of your disability.
  • Longitudinal Evidence. You will have to provide evidence that the depression has been persistent and severe enough to cause hardship and an inability to work. This usually requires showing that you have suffered from depression for some time. You may be required to show how you have tried and failed to remain in the workforce.
  • Evidence of Functioning. You may also need to provide evidence about how you are unable to function in the workplace. Again, this usually comes in the form of having tried and failed to work and getting statements of such from past employers and work programs. You may also need to provide evidence of your level of functioning from rehabilitation programs and caregivers.

In other words, there are three categories of evidence required to qualify for disability benefits for depression: medical documentation, limitations, and ongoing treatment and marginal adjustment. You must satisfy the requirements of the medical documentation as well as the requirements of one of the other two categories.

  1. Medical Documentation of Depressive Disorder

Medical documentation of a depressive disorder should be fairly simple to obtain if you have already been diagnosed and receiving treatment. This includes statements from your psychiatrist or therapist and anyone else who treats your depression.

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The medical documentation must show that you have at least five of the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Lowered interest in all activities
  • Appetite changes with weight changes
  • Sleep changes
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Decreased levels of energy
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  1. Limitations

You must be able to show that you have severe limitations that prevent you from working in your field or another field. You must have what is considered either "extreme limitation" of one or "marked limitation" of two of the following abilities:

  • Understanding, remembering, or applying information
  • Interacting with people
  • Concentrating or maintaining your normal pace
  • Adapting to surroundings or caring for yourself

An extreme limitation is one in which you are completely unable to function in that area independently or consistently. A marked limitation is one in which your functioning in that area is severely limited. The Social Security administration has a rating scale and surveys that they use to determine if a limitation is marked or extreme.

  1. Ongoing Treatment And Marginal Adjustment

If you cannot show that you have pervasive limitations, you can show instead that you have had ongoing treatment and marginal adjustment. "Ongoing treatment" means that you have been in treatment for a long period, at least a year, without tangible results that better your ability to work. "Marginal adjustment" refers to the inability to adjust to your surroundings or changes, or the inability to care for yourself.

Can I Lessen My Symptoms?

The process of getting on disability for your depression may be long and complicated. It may also exacerbate your symptoms. In the meantime, there are some things you can do to lessen your depressive symptoms.

One of the most important things is to get enough sleep. When you sleep enough, your brain can function like it is supposed to, and your mind has a chance to rest. You should also do your best to exercise. Not only is exercise good for your body, it also can help get your blood moving, which won't happen if you sit around all day watching television. It can also help improve your mood, even if you exercise for only a few minutes.


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Another thing to try is to spend time with people, especially your closest friends. Even just going to a good friend's house to drink coffee can change your whole day. You don't need to talk about anything serious; you can just sit together or engage in a simple activity. Being transparent with our best friends can be hard when we're going through depression, but it's critical. When they know what's happening, they will understand if you don't feel like talking but would rather watch a movie together.

The above suggestions may offer a small reprieve from the symptoms that depression can cause. At the end of the day, however, it is still best to talk to a therapist. Consider doing this as soon as you can.

How BetterHelp Can Support You, No Matter How Bad Things Are

If you are suffering from depression and it is causing you to miss work or be unable to work, your first line of defense is to seek treatment right away. Contacting a therapist or psychiatrist is your first step in getting treatment for your depression and establishing that you have a disability. As treatment progresses, you may find that you can go back to work. If you are not able to work, your therapist and/or psychiatrist can work with you to make sure that you are doing all you can to prove that you have a disability.

BetterHelp's platform is completely anonymous, and you can access it from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an Internet connection). Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing depression and related issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Kristin is amazing. She is so dedicated to helping get to the root cause of my anxiety, depression, and PTSD. She is the first counselor to continue to motivate and accommodate my extremely hectic schedule. She really is a life saver! She has given me strength to believe in myself and want to continue to get stronger. If you're someone who feels you have hit every roadblock possible I strongly recommend working with Kristin!"

"I put off finding a therapist for a long time. I dreaded my first conversation with Neil and all the awkward, clunky explanations I'd have to give about my depression and anxiety. All of the things that felt like dirty little secrets that caused me so much pain. But I was so pleasantly surprised by the way Neil accurately picked up on what I was saying and gave me more insight into how my brain was working. It made my issue feel so much less of a personal problem and more of a universal problem we could examine together. He always gives me a thoughtful response within a day or two any time I send a message. I actually think we've made more progress in between sessions just by being able to communicate things that are coming up in real time. Neil is intelligent and kind. I really appreciate his communication style and highly recommend him."

Conclusion

Proving that your depression is a disability can be difficult and stressful, but if you need ADA protections or Social Security disability benefits to make ends meet and truly thrive in life, it is well worth the effort. Remember, your first steps must be to seek treatment and cooperate with that treatment to the best of your ability. Only then can you prove that you have a disability that prevents you from working, or that requires you to have accommodations at work. The most important thing to remember is that effective treatment is available. You have to take certain steps to ensure that not only is your job secured, but you are also protected. Just take things one step at a time-BetterHelp can help guide you through it all. Take the first step today.


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