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Mental Illness and Supplemental Security Income

If you are suffering from a severe mental illness you may be unable to maintain employment and may be wondering what options you have to support yourself and your family. Mental illness, although not necessarily visible to others, can be as debilitating as a physical health condition. Recently on our disability forum we had a user ask, “If I have a severe mental illness can I get Supplemental Security Income (SSI benefits)

What is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is offered to individuals who are disabled with a severe health condition, mental or physical, which does not allow them to work for at least 12 continuous months. Unlike SSDI, which is offered to workers who have worked, paid employment taxes, and earned work credits to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, SSI recipients do not have to have a work history to qualify.

SSI applicants do, however, have to have very limited income and resources. In fact, if your income and resource level is above the allowable limit it will not matter how severe your mental illness is, you will be denied SSI.

What mental illnesses are approved for SSI?

A full list of mental disorders and symptoms which the SSA considers disabling can be found in the SSA Listing of Impairments, which is a listing of conditions the SSA considers automatically disabling.

The mental illness listing is found under 12.00 Mental Disorders and includes organic mental disorders, schizophrenia, paranoia and other psychotic disorders, affective disorders, anxiety-related disorders, somatoform disorders, mental retardation, substance addiction disorders, personality disorders, autistic disorders and other pervasive developmental disorders.

Proving you have a mental illness

The SSA will determine whether you have a mental disorder and the severity of your condition by reviewing your most recent medical records from your treating sources. They will expect that you have been getting good medical care but remain unable to work due to your condition.

For mental illness claims these records can include records from mental health facilities, treating psychiatrists and psychologists. You will not need a doctor’s note stating you are disabled, but the SSA will expect that your medical records will prove that your mental health condition is so severe that you are not able to work for at least 12 continuous months. It is also good to have specifics on your limitations to perform full-time work.

For example, the disability examiner will look for information about your ability to concentrate, follow instructions, get along with co-workers, follow a normal work schedule or a normal work week, and perform normal daily activities.

Specifically the examiner will evaluate your memory and concentration, concentration and persistence, social interaction, and adaptation (responding to the work setting, adapting to normal precautions, traveling to familiar places and setting realistic goals).

The examiner will also evaluate whether you have a history of setbacks or decompensation because many claimants have periods of taking their medications and functioning well followed by periods of dysfunction.

What do I do first?

The first step is to study the application process and make sure you understand the requirements. There are many nonmedical requirements which you must meet in addition to medical requirements.

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