When you are determining whether or not you are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits due to depression, it is best to start by revisiting Social Security’s definition of a qualifying disability.
SSDI defines a qualifying disability as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”
The definition of disability for children under the age of 18 is slightly different but is defined as “a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations, and that can be expected to cause death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”
What Does ‘Medically Determinable’ Mean?
Now that we know how Social Security defines ‘disabled,’ it’s important to understand the meaning of the term ‘medically determinable.’ A medically determinable impairment is simply an impairment that is supported by medically acceptable clinical or diagnostic evidence. If you are applying for SSDI or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, you will need medical evidence to substantiate your claim; you cannot rely on a personal statement or statements from friends and/or family members.
Depression and Disability
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”
Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
By clinical definitions, symptoms must last for longer than two weeks to be classified as depression.
Remember that Social Security uses a 12-month or longer timeframe to determine disability. So, you would need to prove that your depression significantly impaired your ability to work for at least a 12-month period of time to qualify.
In addition to the time requirement, claimants with depression who are seeking disability benefits must have medical evidence showcasing consistent treatment and severe functional impairments that impact your ability to work.
This medical evidence could include various depression screening tools administered by trained professionals, notes from therapists taken during in-person counseling sessions, prescription medicine use and its resulting effect or non-effect on your condition and other clinical evidence.
The medical evidence will have to demonstrate consistently that your depression is severe and that it materially impacts your ability to function or perform substantial gainful activity. Less severe depression is unlikely to result in a favorable outcome.
If you are struggling with a mental health condition like depression and your condition is severe enough to prevent you from working despite ongoing treatment, we recommend you contact us today for a free evaluation of your claim.