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Focus on the Law: Depression and Social Security Disability

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

According to the National Institute of Health, 9.5% of the U.S. adult population suffers from mood disorders in any given year with 45% of these cases being classified as severe.  A mood disorder refers to a mental disorder “in which the underlying problem primarily affects a person’s emotional state (their mood).”  Women are 50% more likely than men to experience a mood disorder over their lifetime.  The average age of onset is 30 years old.  Depression and bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) are both mood disorders with depression being much more common.

All of us have days where we are sad or not feeling up to snuff.  These feelings usually pass in a day or two.   When they linger and resist all attempts to improve your mood, you may be suffering a more serious illness.  Depression makes all activities of living and working difficult.  “A severely depressed person finds it difficult to leave home, to be with other people, to deal with ordinary stresses, to carry on friendly and business relationships, and to concentrate.”  Hall, Social Security Disability Practice, p. 440.  This person may “decompensate” and be unable to function at all under stress.  Depression can be a fatal illness since suffers may commit suicide.

The medical guidelines for winning an award of Social Security benefits based upon affective or mood disorders require a medically documented history of chronic affective disorder of at least two year’s duration that has caused more than a minimal limitation of ability to do basic work activities, with symptoms or signs currently attenuated by medication or psychosocial support, and one of the following:

Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration; or

A residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause the individual to decompensate; or

Current living history of one or more years’ inability to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement, with an indication of continued need for such an arrangement.

Alternatively, the required level of severity can be met with a medically documented persistence of depressive syndrome, manic syndrome or bipolar syndrome.  This syndrome must result in at least two of the following:

Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or

Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning;  or

Marked difficulties in maintain concentration, persistence, or pace;  or

Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

Contact a physician to get help treating your depression.  Medication and psychotherapy can be very helpful in treating  depression.   If you are thinking of harming yourself, contact the national suicide prevention hotline toll-free, 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK to speak with a counselor.  If you are unable to work due to your depression, contact an attorney to get advice and assistance with filing a claim for Social Security Disability benefits.

 

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