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If you’ve struggled to work because of your depression, you may qualify for disability benefits. In 2020, 13% of people received disability benefits for their mental health, including about 5% of people with depression or a similar condition.
To help you qualify for benefits, we’ll break down how the SSA defines depression, when depression can qualify as a disability, and how to get disability benefits for depression.
Depression is a disability according to the Social Security Administration (SSA), meaning it could qualify you for monthly benefit payments.
The SSA characterizes people with depression and similar disabilities as having difficulty functioning because they experience a lack of interest and pleasure in most activities. Additional symptoms include low energy levels, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, feelings of worthlessness, or suicidal thoughts.
Depression is categorized by the SSA along with a handful of similar conditions. Types of depression that can qualify for disability insurance include:
If you experience depression as part of bipolar disorder, that can also qualify you for benefits. Read more in our guide to disability benefits bipolar disorder.
Yes, you can get disability benefits for depression if it’s totally disabling, meaning you’re unable to work or handle daily activities on your own.
Unfortunately, the SSA requires you to meet strict medical criteria in order to receive benefits for depression. You may find it difficult to qualify if you aren’t working closely with a psychiatrist, therapist, and possibly other doctors. Working with a disability lawyer can also greatly increase your odds of approval.
Everyone who wants to receive disability benefits for depression must meet the criteria set by the SSA.
First you need to prove to the SSA that you have a depressive disorder. Then you have to demonstrate that you meet at least one of two other criteria: your depression greatly limits your mental abilities, or your depression persists even though you’ve already received multiple years of treatment for it.
Requirements for getting disability for depression:
1. Prove you have depression AND
2a. Prove that your depression severely limits your mental abilities OR
2b. Prove you have serious depression that’s continued for two years or more
To prove that you have depression, including clinical depression, dysthymia, and cyclothymia, you must be able to medically prove you experience at least five of the following nine symptoms:
The SSA considers four key areas to determine how depression affects your mental functioning:
You will need medical records that show your condition is extremely limiting for at least one area, or markedly limiting for multiple. If you have an extreme limitation, you may be unable to function independently in that area for a sustained amount of time. With a marked limitation, you can handle things yourself but your ability to function is seriously limited.
It isn’t necessary to show every single way that depression affects your mental functioning, but you should have clear evidence of how your condition affects the abilities listed above.
Some questions to ask yourself:
You can prove that your depression is “serious and persistent” if you have documentation showing all three of the following:
The SSA will especially consider whether you’ve received continuous care for your depression. Your claim may be denied if your treatments have been inconsistent. Any records of you failing to follow your treatments could also hurt your application.
Some questions to ask yourself:
If your depression meets the SSA criteria, your next step is to apply for disability benefits. Even if you aren’t sure whether or not you meet all the medical requirements, you can still apply. There is no harm in applying as long as you complete the application honestly.
To easily determine whether you qualify for benefits, take our free two-minute quiz. If you do qualify, we can also refer you to an experienced lawyer. Our services are totally free and you only have to pay the lawyer if they win your case.
While the SSA's criteria may seem strict, you don't necessarily have to check every box. The important thing is to prove your depression is severe enough to prevent you from working. If you don’t think you meet all the criteria, you should still apply for disability.
Fill out the application honestly and know that your goal is to have medical records or other documentation proving your depression keeps you from working, even though you’re receiving treatment for it.
The SSA will probably deny your initial application, but only 20% of people win their claim on the initial application anyway. Next, you can appeal and you’ll have an opportunity to argue your case in front of a judge. You’re much more likely to win at this stage — nearly half of applicants get approved.
The average disability check for depression and other depressive related disorders is $1,131.37, though the maximum monthly payment is $3,627 for SSDI and $914 for SSI in 2023.
The maximum amounts for SSDI and SSI are the same for every condition, regardless of how severe your disability is. Your exact disability check will depend on your work history if you’re applying for SSDI, and your other sources of income if you’re applying for SSI. Some people can also receive both payments.
Here are a few ways to increase your chances of success:
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