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Do I have to have a physical disorder to get SSDI?

We get a variety of questions on our disability forum and one common question is, “How does the SSA determine if I am disabled?” A question that another user asked which is a bit more specific is, “Do I have to have a physical disability to be considered disabled or can I have a mental health disorder?” This is a great question.

What types of disabilities does the SSA consider disabling?


The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers not only physical disabilities potentially disabling but also mental health disorders. Although a physical disability may be more obvious for others to see, there is no doubt that many applicants suffer with a mental health disorder which may make it difficult to work. And not being able to work is the main requirement for getting SSI or SSDI benefits from the SSA.

What mental health disorders are considered disabling?


The SSA has very specific criteria for mental health disorders they consider disabling; in fact, the SSA has created a listing of conditions and their corresponding symptoms that they believe do not allow claimants to perform “substantial gainful activities” or work.

To prove you are disabled due to a mental health disorder you will need to have a mental condition which is listed on the SSA listing of Impairments or prove that the symptoms you suffer from “meet or exceed” the symptoms of the listed condition. If you cannot do this, you will have to prove that your symptoms are so severe you do not have the residual capacity to work. This is done through the SSA medical vocational allowance.

The mental disorders the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers disabling are found on the SSA Listing of Impairments and are listed below. The corresponding numbers are the sections where each of these conditions can be found in the SSA Listing of Impairments.

What do I need to prove my mental disorder is severe enough for SSI or SSDI?


One of the main issues for applicants who apply for SSDI or SSI with a severe mental disorder is having enough medical documentation to prove they cannot work or their condition meets a listing.

It will not be enough to simply have a diagnosis. The SSA will make the assumption that if you have a severe disorder that you are getting medical treatment. We all know this is not necessarily true, especially for applicants who are out of work or who do not have insurance, but the goal of each applicant should be to get medical evidence that their condition does the following:

  1. Severely affects their daily living and social functioning

  2. Severely limits their concentration, pace, and persistence in a work environment

  3. The claimant has had episodes of decompensation, including increases in the claimant’s medications or psychological support system or increased hospitalizations. (Episodes of decompensation generally are three episodes within 1 year, or an average of once every 4 months, each lasting for at least 2 weeks).


The above can be proven by seeing a mental health specialist and asking them to clearly list the mental symptoms  you have that may limit your ability to work. Getting the right medical documentation is the most important step toward winning SSDI or SSI.
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