Does Depression Make You Eligible for Disability?

Depression is considered a psychiatric disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s a significant mood disorder that’s known to interfere with daily activities, which may include your ability to work.

Depression sometimes becomes so severe that you can no longer go to work. While the ADA guarantees access to programs that provide assistance, not everyone with depression qualifies for disability benefits.

Here’s what you need to know about qualifying and applying for financial assistance if you or a loved one are currently unable to sustain a job due to depression.

Is depression a disability?

Clinical depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. Your doctor may diagnose you with depression if you experience a combination of the following symptoms on most days for at least two weeks:

  • persistent sadness
  • hopelessness and emptiness
  • irritability and anxiety
  • appetite changes
  • sudden weight gain or loss
  • feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • insomnia or oversleeping
  • excessive fatigue
  • concentration difficulties
  • memory problems
  • suicidal thoughts or behaviors

Depression may make it hard to work even with treatments. This helps explain why this mental health disorder continues to be the leading cause of disability for people between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Depression can occur at any point in your life, but the median age it begins is age 32. You might just be starting your first job or in the midst of your career when you first receive a diagnosis.

Having treatment-resistant depression is considered a disability. It doesn’t automatically mean you qualify for disability benefits including financial assistance and health insurance.

In order to get assistance from the Social Security Administration (SSA), the ADA requires that a disability “substantially limit” at least one life activity.

Financial assistance programs if you’re unable to work

You might qualify for assistance if you’re unable to work due to depression. The SSA offers two financial aid programs to people who can’t work due to a disability.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI is the first program you may consider if depression has disrupted your ability to work. To qualify for the program, you must:

  • prove you haven’t been able to work for at least 12 months
  • have paid Social Security through paycheck deductions for the last 5 out of 10 years

The exact SSDI benefits you receive depend on your individual contributions to the Social Security system during your working years. On average, people on SSDI receive $1,165 per month as of 2014.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

You may qualify for SSI benefits in addition to SSDI. This program is designed to help if you have both a low income and little assets. You must meet the following requirements to qualify:

  • a proven inability to work due to depression that’s documented by a medical professional
  • low income based on where you live
  • fewer than $2,000 in assets, excluding your home, car, burial savings, and wedding rings
  • if you’re married, your spouse must also have a low income, and you can’t have more than a combined total of $3,000 in assets

The average monthly payout for federal SSI disability benefits is $733 for individuals and $1,100 for couples as of 2015. This amount depends on a variety of factors, though. You might also be eligible for state benefits on top of your SSI.

Unlike SSDI, you can qualify for SSI benefits without having previously paid into the Social Security system from past paychecks.

Medicaid

Medicaid is a federal assistance program providing low-cost healthcare to people with a low income. It covers people with a disability who are able to receive other federal financial assistance.

You can qualify for Medicare health insurance benefits after 2 years of having SSDI. You can also apply for Medicaid health insurance coverage if you’ve been eligible for SSI payments for at least 1 month.

How can I apply for disability?

If you meet the above criteria, you may qualify for disability benefits for depression. It’s important to apply as soon as you can. It can take several months to receive SSDI and SSI.

You’ll apply directly at your local SSA office. You may choose to hire an attorney to help prepare and file your application. Just be aware that a percentage of your benefits will then be awarded to your legal representative as compensation.

It can take up to half a year to receive a decision on your application for disability benefits. If you’re approved, you’ll receive retroactive pay based on the date you first applied.

Many applications for disability benefits are denied by SSA. If this happens to you, you can appeal the decision in court. It can take up to 2 years to get a hearing. During this time you may consider hiring an attorney to help.

The takeaway

Treatment-resistant depression can be a disability that interferes with your ability to maintain a job. The ADA outlines mental health disorders like depression as potential disabilities that may qualify you for financial assistance, including supplemental income and health insurance.

The process to secure SSDI or SSI can be a long process. Many people don’t get approved. It may be worth talking to an attorney about your individual situation before you begin the application process to help ensure the best possible outcome.

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