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Disability benefits available for some dealing with mental illness

When many people hear the term "disability," they may automatically conjure up the image of someone with a physical handicap, perhaps in a wheelchair or walking on crutches. While it is true that some disabled people are indeed dealing with the impact of a physical condition or limitation, there are also disabilities that are not so easy to spot from afar. The federal government's disability programs - Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - recognize this, and offer benefits to people suffering from a range of mental illnesses as well.

Categories of eligible mental conditions

It is important to state from the beginning that a simple bout of "the blues" isn't sufficiently disabling for purposes of seeking disability benefits. That being said, it is also important not to discount the very real impact that mental illnesses can have on our lives. Depression, for example, can be wholly debilitating, leaving someone so despondent, fatigued and hopeless that they literally cannot get out of bed. Panic disorders can cause life-altering anxiety attacks that mimic the symptoms of serious cardiac events like heart attacks; fear that these attacks will happen in public has driven some people to never leave their homes or step foot in the workplace again.

Other, less common, mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, some eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe phobias and other serious conditions that are long-lasting and debilitating are recognized by disability providers and might allow sufferers to qualify for disability benefits. This is not to say that every person diagnosed with one of these conditions is disabled, nor is it to say that each one should be entitled to benefits. However, the federal Social Security Administration, the agency that governs disability benefit programs, does recognize that these conditions can make working and other day-to-day functions virtually impossible.

Qualifying for benefits

The process by which an applicant seeks benefits for a mental illness or condition can be a long and tedious one. First and foremost, to be eligible for benefits, the applicant must prove that he or she:

  • Has a mental illness or condition considered disabling in nature
  • Has been suffering the effects of said condition - or anticipates that the condition won't improve - for a year or more
  • Is unable to work because of the effects of the condition
  • Has sought medical treatment for the condition, and is following treatment parameters set forth by a qualified physician (unless there is a valid reason why the treatment protocol was insufficient or unworkable)

Even if an applicant can meet these criteria, unless the application process is followed exactingly and all necessary medical and employment history documentation has been provided, it is likely that his or her initial application will be denied. Some estimate that as many as 80 percent of first-time disability applicants are turned down; that is why it is so important to have an experienced Social Security Disability attorney by your side. Having a skilled lawyer like those at the Law Offices of Judith S. Leland, APLC, help you with the application gives you a statistically better chance of being awarded the benefits you need and deserve.