Disability Benefits for Mental Illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression)
As a disability examiner for social security disability and SSI disability cases, I was often amazed at the cases that were denied. For example, I've seen individuals with IQs in the fifties get denied and I've seen individuals with long and well documented histories of decompensation get denied. I've also seen fairly severe cases of bipolar disorder get denied on the basis of duration (a durational denial is a denial made on the basis of an assumption that a condition will not last the required twelve months needed to satisfy the social security administration's definition of disability), which is quite ridiculous when one considers the waxing and waning nature of bipolar disorder, and a number of other conditions as well.
Even well-documented and legitimate mental illness cases get denied by social security. However, that depressing fact only makes it more imperative that disability claimants who file on the basis of a mental impairment provide substantial documentation in the form of medical records.
Unfortunately, in our society at present, getting access to needed mental health treatment can be difficult. According to the National Mental Health Council, there are approximately three and a half million Americans who suffer from brain disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. And forty percent of these individuals receive no treatment. In many instances, the lack of treatment may be due to an individual never having sought treatment. However, there are too many cases in which those who seek treatment find no avenue by which to continue receiving treatment. For instance, those who become disabled and have long term disability insurance often find that their LTD "coverage" for mental health treatment caps out at the two-year mark.
Can you be approved for social security disability or SSI if you have a mental illness? Yes. However, disability claims based on mental impairments seem to be treated by the social security administration even more arbitrarily than claims that are based solely on physical impairments.
If you file an application for disability on the basis of one or more mental impairments, prepare for the strong probability of being denied at the initial claim level, and prepare for the likelihood of having to file appeals. However, on the bright side, it should be noted that the majority of claims that are brought before administrative law judges at disability hearings are approved, and this is particularly true for represented claimants. The downside to this fact, however, is the fact that the appeals process leading to a hearing can take 1-2 years.
Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog
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