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What is depression and what are the symptoms?

Depressive disorders that may qualify you for disability include, but are not limited to, bipolar disorders, cyclothymic disorder, major depressive disorder, and dysthymia. Typical symptoms include suicidal ideation, feelings of hopelessness or guilt, changes in appetite or body weight, issues with sleep, increase/decrease in energy levels, psychomotor abnormalities, difficulty concentrating, pressured speech, grandiosity, reduced impulse control, sadness, euphoria, and social withdrawal.

What qualifies someone for disability with depression according to SSA?

SSA has a depressive disorder Listing which sets forth certain criteria and if your condition meets the criteria exactly, SSA will automatically find that you are disabled. Depressive disorders are addressed in Listing 12.04 which indicates:

Satisfied by A and B, or A and C
Medical documentation of the requirements of paragraph 1 or 2:
Depressive disorder, characterized by five or more of the following:
Depressed mood;
Diminished interest in almost all activities;
Appetite disturbance with change in weight;
Sleep disturbance;
Observable psychomotor agitation or retardation;
Decreased energy;
Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;
Difficulty concentrating or thinking; or
Thoughts of death or suicide.
Bipolar disorder, characterized by three or more of the following:
Pressured speech;
Flight of ideas;
Inflated self-esteem;
Decreased need for sleep;
Involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences that are not recognized; or
Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation.
Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F):
Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1).
Interact with others (see 12.00E2).
Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3).
Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4).
Your mental disorder in this listing category is “serious and persistent;” that is, you have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both:
Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder (see 12.00G2b); and
Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life (see 12.00G2c).
If you do not meet the Listing criteria, you still may be able to satisfy Listing 12.04 if the combination of your depressive disorder and your other severe physical and mental impairments “equal” the Listing or have essentially the same effect on your functioning as would the listed criteria.

If SSA finds that you do not meet the requirements of a Listing, then what?

If your depressive disorder is not severe enough to meet or equal the Listings, SSA will determine your residual functional capacity (“RFC”) – what kind of activities you still retain the ability to do – and whether or not you still retain the ability to perform any full-time jobs in the national economy. Depression can affect your ability to work in various ways.

For example, you may experience several days per month in which your depression is so severe that you cannot even get out of bed. If SSA finds that you are likely to be absent from work even 2-3 days per month, it is unlikely that you sustain full-time work activity in any capacity. Also, if your depressive symptoms are so severe and you experience significant difficulty with concentration and focus which causes you to be off-task at least 10-20% of the workday, you would also be unable to sustain full-time work.

Tips for disability claimants with depression

It is very important that you follow prescribed treatment, including following through with any recommendations to seek treatment with a psychiatrist/psychologist and for counseling. You must also take your medication as prescribed unless you have a valid reason for not doing so, i.e., negative side effects, ineffectiveness, cost, etc.

You should avoid the abuse of alcohol and illegal substances. If there is evidence of abuse, SSA must determine if the substance abuse is a factor material to the determination of disability. Simply put, SSA must determine if the depression or the substance abuse is what is truly making you disabled. You cannot receive disability benefits if the substance abuse is what is causing you to be disabled.

Lastly, you should not hesitate to let your providers know exactly what symptoms you are experiencing. You want the treatment notes to be reflective of your true condition. SSA will not just take your word for it and you must have objective medical evidence to support your claim.