Is Depression A Disability?
People who live with 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). Like depression, people often ask, is PTSD a disability? Yes, in most cases you can get aid for it. 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.
Is Depression A Disability?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers depression to be a mental disorder/significant affective disorder that may qualify an individual for disability. In fact, depression is considered the leading cause of disability around the world. 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 the 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 experiencing depression. Data from 2017 stated that, of individuals in the US living 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 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.
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. Major depressive disorder can occur at any age, but the median age for the first symptoms is 32 years old.
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 share your disability and request accommodations, such as changes in your work schedule due to treatment.
Evidence Required To Establish Disability For Benefits
If you are unable to work due to your depression, there are many different types of medical 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 medically documented history, 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 and your work history. You will need to be able to show that you 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 lived with 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.
- Medical Documentation Of Depressive Disorder
Medical documentation of a depressive disorder should be fairly simple to obtain if you have already been diagnosed and are receiving treatment. This includes 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
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Loss of ability to perform routine tasks
- Appetite changes (whether that be an increased appetite or very poor appetite) with either unintentional weight loss or weight gain
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased physical agitation or retardation
- Decreased levels of energy and physical movement
- Struggling with social functioning and social skills
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7, or you can text the word “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
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 and not experiencing difficulty concentrating
- Interacting with people
- Concentrating or maintaining pace
- Adapting to surroundings or caring for yourself (such as practicing good hygiene)
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.
3. 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.
How To Apply For Disability
If you believe you meet all the criteria for a disability, then you can begin the application process by filling out an online application form on the SSA website. To qualify, you will need the medical records mentioned in this article, knowledge of when your symptoms began, and the mental demands that your depression exacts on you. You should also provide statements from your doctors, family members, social workers, supervisors, and co-workers with your form to provide further evidence of your disability and struggle with depression.
Please know that the application process can take a while, so it may be a few months before you begin to receive your benefits.
What Happens If You Are Not Approved?
In some cases, medical records show that one’s depression does not qualify as a disability. If this happens to you but you can still prove that you are unable to work with your depression, then you may qualify for medical vocational allowance. A medical vocational allowance helps you get Social Security Disability benefits even if your disability does not match any condition listed by the SSA. However, during this application process, the SSA will go through your medical records to determine if there is any work you can do reasonably, which is known as your Residual Functional Capacity. Your Residual Functional Capacity may substantially limit the amount of work you do but may not get you out of work completely.
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 walk outside. Walking outside can help decrease mild to moderate depressive symptoms.
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. If you’re unable to make plans, ask your friend(s) to stop by.
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 experiencing 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 is a solid 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.
There is an increasingly large amount of research suggesting that online counseling can benefit those living with mental health issues that can get in the way of work or daily life. For example, in a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers looked at the effectiveness of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) when addressing symptoms of depression. The study included results from over 1,200 individuals who had utilized online CBT, and showed that online therapy can be useful in treatments for depression.
Online therapy with BetterHelp is a discreet way of seeking mental health care. You can connect from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). You can also participate in counseling with BetterHelp completely anonymously by selecting a “nickname” when you sign up, if you prefer. A mental health professional can help you cope if depression is negatively affecting your work, relationships, or other aspects of your life. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing depression and related issues.
"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."
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. Take things one step at a time—BetterHelp can help guide you through it all.
Commonly Asked Questions Below:
What kind of depression qualifies for disability?
Should I list depression as a disability?
Can you get disability for depression and anxiety?
How hard is it to get disability for depression?
What is the most approved disability?
What disqualifies a person from disability?
What state is easiest to get disability?
How do you get declared disabled?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can You Claim Disability For Depression?
You can potentially get disability benefits for depression. It depends on the situation. Some people can get benefits from depression, depending on the circumstances. If you have severe depression, and you’ve tried treatment options or are undergoing treatment options, or you have strong medical evidence that you have depression, you can qualify for disability benefits in some circumstances. Other factors are the type of work you do, your education level, and level of convincing your treatment records can show.
Some people have trouble getting disability benefits in many cases, and sometimes social security disability does not honor those benefits. But depressed people who have dealt with it for the long term might be able to claim benefits. They do look for SSI disability as well, and to see if you do, you have to complete a five-step process to see if you have enough proof to help you get disability benefits.
What Mental Illness Is Considered A Disability?
You can get disability benefits for a variety of mental illnesses, from depression-related mental illnesses, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, autism, ADHD, along with learning disabilities, intellectual developmental disorder, and low IQ.
The main criteria you have to follow to claim disability benefits is to prove that they are disabling to you in your life. If the disorder isn’t disabling, or you don’t meet the criteria for one reason or another, you might not be able to get disability benefits. However, if you can prove you can’t do a simple job or skill due to whatever problems, there is a chance you can claim disability benefits at that point.
The best way to know if you can get social security disability is to have ample proof that you can’t do the job, since they will see that you are not able to complete tasks.
Can You Be Fired For Depression?
Unfortunately, yes you can be fired for depression, even severe depression or major depression, especially if the employer doesn’t know that you have it.
For those with clinical depression, you should let your employer know about your situation. Most employers will accommodate for this. But, if the depression becomes so severe that you can’t perform the job, they can fire you.
However, if you do feel it’s discrimination, especially if you have proven clinical depression, you can talk to a disability attorney in order to file a suit. A disability attorney can help represent your case and help you get the justice you need. However, make sure to choose your attorney carefully and don’t fall for manipulative attorney advertising schemes.
Can You Get Long Term Disability For Depression?
You might be able to get SSI disability for long-term depression. The key thing to have here in order to get claim benefits based on depression is, of course, the proof that you are depressed. With SSI disability, you need to prove your disability through your insurance, in order to get it. That means, when they go through your records, there must be a listing for depression.
With social security disability, this can be hard to prove, since this oftentimes isn’t recorded. But if you have depression that began early in life, such as childhood depression, you might be able to get a claim based on depression quite easily.
You should talk to a disability attorney in order to figure out whether you can claim this or not.
Along with this, for some social security disability plans, you might only get it for a small window of time. In some cases, the plans for social security disability only go on for about two years. But, by talking to your insurance provider and a disability attorney, you might be able to claim those benefits over a longer period of time.
Is Depression Hereditary?
Depression has been found to run in families, and there are genetic factors that can contribute to this, especially if the brain isn’t producing the right chemicals. However, there has been research into the genetics of this at an early level, and currently there isn’t a ton known about the certain genetic elements of this disease. Some do say that the variations within the genes combine together to increase chances of developing depression.
Determining the risk factors for this does help, and some say that the neurotransmitters within the brain are not properly functioning within those with depression, and neuroplasticity is not occurring.
But there are environmental factors that can play a role in depression coming up in a person. For example, a stressful life, some medications, substance abuse, a loss or divorce of someone you love, difficulties both in relationships or in the workaday world, or even physical illnesses including cancers, chronic pain, and thyroid disease can all play a part in depression developing in a person. These can interact together, and sometimes it is both a genetic and a nongenetic situation.
There is also not a clear pattern of inheritance when it comes to that.
That means, there is no line of inheritance, but those with a first-level relative might find themselves at 2-3 times more at risk for depression themselves. However, that isn’t always the case, especially with those who have no family history of depression.
Does Long Term Disability Cover Mental Health?
Some social security disability might cover mental health. Social security disability benefits usually involve proving whether or not you have an SSI disability that you can claim.
The problem with this is, disability benefits for depression qualify for a disability claim in far fewer instances than when it comes to other conditions which may warrant disability claims.
Some disability benefits for depression qualify for disability when you can prove for the long-term that you are disabled and unable to work and that you physically can't perform the work. At that point, you can claim social security disability benefits.
Usually, social security disability insurance disability benefits based on long-term conditions include autism, mental retardation, bipolar disorders, drug and alcohol disorders, general anxiety disorder, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and some forms of depression.
Many don’t believe you can claim benefits based on depression, but you can get social security disability insurance disability benefits based on this if you can prove this is a long-term condition and you’ve been living with depression for a long time.
If there is a pre-existing condition involving depression, you might be able to get some benefits based on depression. Listing for depression early in life and proving your depression by depression listing can help you get your claim proved, so you can get the help that you need.
Can You Get Short-term Disability For Anxiety And Depression?
You might be able to get social security disability insurance disability benefits based on anxiety and depression. The big thing here is being able to prove you can’t do the work at this time, and you must be covered. You need to prove that you cannot physically do the job that you’re doing due to mental illness, and you are more of a detriment to yourself and others if you do.
For short-term situations, you can prove this, but it does take a lot of proof.
What Causes Depression In The Brain?
A lot say that the cause of depression is a chemical imbalance within the brain. While that isn’t totally proven for sure, and studies still need to be done on what happens to the brain when a person is depressed, some scans do show that there are less neurotransmitters in the brain functioning in order to communicate with the nerve cells. A chemical such as serotonin is also lacking in the brain too, which of course helps stave off depression.
Chemical imbalance is a hypothesis though, and right now is still a theory. There is also a lot of controversy surrounding this theory, and a lot of the medical community says that isn’t the case since it doesn’t capture the true complexity within the brain.
However, there is a greater risk for depression if the frontal lobe of your brain isn’t as active as other parts. However, currently, there is no proof of whether or not this happens before or after the depressive episodes have occurred.
Some studies have said that there is no way to tell if this theory works, however, simply because there are millions of chemical processes happening in the brain all at once. There are more studies occurring based on depression and what happens to your brain when you are depressed happening every day.