Social Security Mental Disability Requirements

According to the South Carolina Department of Health, Americans with mental disorders have much higher rates of unemployment than the general population. Persons with serious mental conditions that render them unable to maintain or find work can apply for Social Security disability benefits which provide monthly benefits checks from the United States government. The Social Security Administration sets strict eligibility guidelines on the type and severity of mental impairments before an applicant can receive benefits.


The SSA specifies nine types of mental disorders that allow U.S. citizens to obtain disability payments, including organic, schizophrenic, affective, anxiety, somatoform, personality, substance addiction and autistic disorders. Mentally retarded individuals also qualify for disability payments. Any mental disorder or medication used to treat a mental disorder must severely limit the sufferer’s daily activities and social functioning on an episodic or permanent basis to the extent to which she cannot obtain or maintain employment.

Work History

All individuals who apply for Social Security disability must have a record of attempting to work before making a claim, including independent attempts to find employment or participation in a community health employment program. The SSA does not require a set number of attempts at work, but individuals repeatedly fired by employers for their behavior due to a mental illness have a greater chance of receiving benefits.


Mentally ill individuals must provide documentation proving their inability to work, including a medical assessment of the severity of their illness, proof that the illness limits their ability to work and a diagnosis from a psychiatrist or psychologist. According to the SSA, an individual can use intelligence testing or personality testing to prove a limit in cognitive functioning due to a mental disability. The side effects from psychiatric medications can further limit an individual’s ability to work, but a medical professional must provide documentation of these side effects.

Time Frame

To qualify for Social Security disability payments, a disability must severely limit or have the potential to limit an individual’s ability to work for a continuous time period of at least 12 months in most cases. If the individual suffers from an anxiety or paranoid disorder such as manic depression or schizophrenia, a doctor must have diagnosed his disorder at least two years before he applies for benefits. Persons who suffer from temporary mental episodes, such as bipolar mood swings, must suffer at least three episodes lasting at least two weeks in a one-year period with an average of one severe episode every four months.