Is Depression A Disability?

Updated May 23, 2019

Reviewer Melinda Santa

Many people who suffer from depression continually 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 can qualify for social security disability or supplemental social security income by having depression as a disability.


The fact of the matter is that depression is one of the disabilities that the Social Security Administration considers in the realm of mental health disorders that can lead to disability. However, there are a lot of factors that go into determining whether or not your depression is a disability or not. A simple diagnosis of depression is not nearly enough for it to be considered a disability for these purposes.

However, it is important to note that depression is a disability by many other definitions. It depends on what you are trying to qualify for or what you are trying to accomplish as to whether or not depression is considered a disability.

Depressive Disorders Considered A Disability

Two primary depressive disorders are considered disabilities. For you to claim that you have a disability, you must be diagnosed with one of these disorders by a doctor and 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 several symptoms combined with low mood are present most of the day nearly every day for two weeks.

However, 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 benefits for disability or you are fighting for disability 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 depression 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. This is the most serious and severe form of depression.

ADA Disability Protections

The American's with Disabilities Act of 1990, most commonly referred to as the ADA, gives protections to people with disabilities. Even if your disability is not severe and debilitating enough to prevent you from working altogether, you still have protections under the ADA. For example, your employer cannot discriminate against you due to your disability, including the ability to take leave or time off for treatment.


There are other protections for you under the ADA as well, such as state and local government agencies and assistance cannot discriminate based on your disability. Telecommunications and transportation also cannot discriminate or must make accommodations based on your disability.

While you are under no obligations to report a disability to your employer or any other entity, it is important to understand that employers only have to accommodate those disabilities that they are aware of. It is up to you to disclose your disability and request the accommodations, such as changes in schedules for treatment.

Evidence Required To Establish Disability For Benefits

If you are unable to work due to your depression, there are a lot of different types of evidence you will have to present when you apply for benefits. While depression is one of the disabilities that social security disability benefits provide for, this does not mean that it is easy to qualify. You will have to present a lot of documentation, and the process can take some time.

Medical Sources

Medical sources include information from your doctors and therapists regarding your diagnosis and treatment. This is perhaps one of the most important pieces of evidence you will 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 for one reason or another relating to 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 that you can show 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 trying and failing 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.

Requirements For Depression To Be A Disability For Benefits

There are some requirements that all of this documentation must show to qualify for social security disability benefits for depression. The depression you suffer must be extremely severe and limiting to your way of life and ability to function in and out of the workplace.

There are three categories of requirements: 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.

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 is simply statements from your psychiatrist or therapist and anyone else who treats your depression.

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


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 the extreme limitation of one or marked limitation of two of the following limitations:

  • Understand, remember, or apply information
  • Interact with people
  • Concentrate or maintain the pace
  • Adapt to surroundings or care 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.

Ongoing Treatment And Marginal Adjustment

If you cannot show that you have pervasive limitations, you can also show 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.


Getting Help

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, your therapist and psychiatrist can work with you to make sure that you are doing all you can to prove that you have a disability.

Proving you have a disability through depression can be difficult and stressful, but if you need the ADA protections or disability benefits to make ends meet and truly thrive in life, it will be well worth the effort. Remember, you first have to seek treatment, and fully 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. Good luck.

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