April 28, 2015

Symptoms of Depression That May Make you Eligible for Social Security Disability Payments

Many of the clients I serve in my Indianapolis disability practice suffer from some type of depressive disorder.  Sometimes their symptoms of depression are caused by or exacerbated by physical impairments, but often depression is a disabling condition all by itself.

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Depression raises some unique obstacles in pursuing a Social Security disability claim.  Deadlines must be met, appointments must be kept, and paperwork must be completed in a timely and thorough manner.  If you have depression, though, you may lack the energy to keep track of your paperwork or even open your mail.  You might be so socially and emotionally isolated that you do not attend appointments or return telephone calls.  You may have difficulty maintaining attention long enough to complete questionnaires about your symptoms and work history.  If you aren’t able to fulfill these obligations, it is likely your claim will be dismissed.  It can be really helpful if you allow a family member or friend to help you make sure everything gets finished completely and on time.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) addresses the disability nature of depression and other affective disorders in its Listing of Impairments at Listing 12.04.  To meet the requirements of this listing, you first much be able to show that you have medically documented symptoms such as:

  • “Anhedonia,” or a persistent, all-encompassing loss of interest in your daily activities, even things you used to like to do
  • Disturbance in your appetite causing weight gain or loss
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Psychomotor agitation (unintentional, purposeless movement) or retardation (listlessness, inability to physically carry out everyday activities)
  • Lack of energy
  • Guilt or feelings of worthlessness
  • Problems concentrating or thinking
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia

It is not enough for you to explain to Social Security what your symptoms are and how they affect you.  You must be able to provide documentation from a medical provider supporting your description of your symptoms.  You must also be able to show that your symptoms have lasted or are expected to last at least twelve months.  Records from a mental health professional carry the most weight, especially if you are treated by a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

The next thing you must show is that your symptoms from depression cause at least two of the following:

  • “Marked” impairment (which is defined by Social Security as interfering seriously with your ability to function independently, appropriately, and on a sustained basis) in carrying out your activities of daily living, including maintaining your home, paying your bills, and running errands
  • Marked impairment in social functioning, or your ability to interact and communicate with family members, friends, and strangers
  • Marked impairment in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace enough to complete tasks, especially in a work setting
  • “Repeated” (which is defined by Social Security as occurring at least three times within a year and lasting at least two weeks at a time) episodes of decompensation, or times when your symptoms increase and result in a loss of your adaptive functioning

If your symptoms are currently under control due to medication and therapy to the extent that you do not typically have “marked” impairments as described above, Social Security might still find you disabled under certain circumstances.  These situations occur if you have had chronic symptoms for at least two years and one of the following applies:

  • You are unable to live outside of a highly supportive living environment
  • Your symptoms are so tenuously controlled that even a slight change in your environment would cause you to decompensate

Probably the most disabling functional limitations for most of my clients with depression is the inability to work consistently on a full-time basis. Their symptoms prevent them from being able to focus and concentrate consistently enough to work an eight-hour day.  Further, the lack of energy and sleep disturbances prevent them from being able to make it to work on time, or even at all, often enough to be able to hold a job.

Depression might be one of the most misunderstood disabling conditions in that many people do not realize how severely it can limit a person’s ability to function and how difficult it can be to overcome.  However, with medical records that support the severity of your symptoms and reflect consistent treatment and medication compliance, it is possible to receive disability benefits for depressive disorders.

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