Why It’s Hard to Claim Disability for Mental Illness

Mental illnesses can be just as disabling as physical ones. Yet, patients often find it hard to claim disability for mental illness. In fact, mental disability claims tend to get denied more often than other types of disability claims.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 2 out of 10 people suffering from mood disorders are receiving disability benefits. Though inconclusive, this illustrates how hard it is to get disability benefits for mental disorders.

So, why is it so hard to claim social security benefits for mental disabilities in the US? There are actually a variety of reasons. To fully understand this, let’s first take a look at the SSA’s disability claims process for mental disorders.

Claiming Disability Benefits for Mental Illness

As mentioned, applying for mental disability benefits isn’t exactly a walk in the park. You must meet the SSA’s eligibility requirements and prove that your condition is disabling enough.

Types of Disability Benefits You Can Apply For

Before you apply for disability benefits, you first need to determine which type of benefit you should apply for.

1. Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI). This is for those who have paid social security taxes and have enough work credits.

2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you don’t have enough work credits and have a limited income, you’ll have a much better chance of getting approved for SSI.


As with other disability claims, you’ll be eligible for social security benefits if your mental illness:

  • affects your ability to work or do any type of gainful employment
  • is expected to last for more than a year

The SSA also keeps a list of mental disabilities that can qualify for benefits. If your condition is not on this list, applications are usually denied right off the bat.

What Mental Disorders Qualify For Disability?

Also known as the “blue book”, the SSA’s disability evaluation handbook lists the criteria for mental disorders to be considered a disability. If your condition meets all the criteria laid therein, you’ll most likely qualify for disability benefits.

Here are the mental disorders included in the list:

But remember that having your mental disorder on the above list isn’t exactly a guarantee that you’ll get approved for benefits. It will just increase your chances. The SSA will still evaluate your residual functional capacity (RFC). This refers to your maximum functional ability in spite of your psychological condition/s. In short, if your condition does not prevent you from working, your claim will probably be denied.

For instance, anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues. But for most people, it doesn’t significantly affect their ability to work. Severe cases of anxiety, however, can cause some people to totally withdraw from society. This, obviously, prevents them from working or and can have a significant impact on their daily living.

A person with a mental disability whose social security claim was denied

Common Reasons Why Mental Disability Claims Are Denied

If your mental condition is on the list but your application still got denied, here are some things you could be doing wrong:

1. Lack of Strong Clinical Evidence

Unlike other disabilities, mental disorders don’t manifest physically. This makes it harder to prove.

Physical impairments can easily be proven with x-ray or blood test results. But diagnostic tests for mental disorders can be subjective. The findings are based mostly on the observations of the medical personnel based on the behavior of the patient. This is why the SSA is more strict in accepting medical evidence for mental disorders.

2. No History of Psychological Treatments

Most mental disability claimants fail to provide a treatment history for the disorder they are applying for. This is especially true for depression-related cases. Because of lack of access to mental health resources, most patients deal with depression on their own without seeing a psychiatrist.

Without the applicant’s medical records and treatment history, the SSA will have a hard time evaluating their condition and how likely it is to affect their work.

3. Scant Supporting Evidence

Memory impairment testing, IQ tests, and reports from mental health professionals are just some of the evidence you need to include in your application. But most of the time, the SSA will also require other evidence to support your claim. This can include written testimonies of the people you interact with regularly and case files from a social worker (if any). If your supporting evidence is not enough to back your claim, chances are it will get denied.

4. Non-Compliance With Prescribed Treatments

The SSA can outright deny your claim if they determine that you are not following the prescribed treatments for your mental illness.

Remember, the SSA will want to make sure that you are really disabled and not just using your condition as an excuse to receive free welfare. One way to prove that is your willingness to get better so you can get back to the workforce sooner. If you aren’t willing to comply with the prescribed treatments, then that means you don’t want to improve your condition.

5. Social and Cultural Bias

The lack of understanding on the nature of mental disorders has built a cultural and social bias towards people suffering from it. Other people will just tell them to “get over it” or that “it’s all in your head”. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude permeates all levels of society including some SSA employees. This makes it all the more difficult to prove that you deserve disability benefits.

6. Lack of Duration

One fundamental criterion the SSA uses to gauge disability is that it must be expected to last for at least a year or can lead to death. But most mental disorders don’t have a definite duration. With proper treatments, some conditions can improve in a matter of months. While others may last throughout the patient’s lifetime.

How To Increase Your Chances of Getting Approved

If you want your claim to get approved faster, here are some steps you can take:

  • Gather as much supporting evidence as you can. As with most disability claims, the more evidence you have the higher your chances of convincing the SSA that you really are disabled.
  • Follow your mental health specialist’s prescriptions. If you want to prove to the SSA that you’re working towards getting better, you need to follow your prescribed treatments diligently.
  • Consult an experienced disability lawyer like Victor Malca. His more than 25 years of experience helping injured workers in Florida makes him the best person to help you with your claim. He can help you get the social security disability benefits you rightfully deserve. Contact us now for a free consultation.
VICTOR MALCA – Florida Workers Compensation & Social Security Disability Attorney

Victor Malca P.A. has over 27 years of litigation experience in Workers Compensation and Social Security Disability lawsuits. His experience and continued success when fighting for his clients puts him among the most trusted workers’ compensation attorney’s in Florida. He specializes in representing injured workers on compensation benefit cases and disabled individuals claiming lost social security disability benefits.

Book a free consultation today. Our unwavering advocacy for employee rights and privileges are recognized by our past clients across South Florida.

About The Author

Judy Ponio is a writer and editor for the Victor Malca Law P.A. website and blog. She enjoys helping people in need with questions about social security disability and workers compensation law. She has a passion for helping those in need and the elderly with accurate legal information that can make a positive difference in their lives.