If you’ve struggled to work because of your obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you may qualify for monthly disability and healthcare benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). In 2021, about 1.1 million workers received disability benefits for mental health conditions OCD.
To help you make sense of whether your OCD could qualify for benefits, we’ll walk you through how the SSA defines OCD, the eligibility requirements for OCD, and what your next steps should be.
Is OCD a disability?
Yes! According to the SSA, OCD qualifies as a disability when its symptoms or complications make it impossible for you to work. It’s important to note, though, that it’s difficult to prove that your symptoms are severe enough to qualify for Social Security disability.
How the SSA defines OCD
The SSA defines OCD as a mental health disorder that causes intrusive thoughts and obsessions that lead to repetitive, compulsive behaviors. These obsessions and compulsions can significantly impact your work since many people with OCD feel that they have to see through their compulsions to relieve stress.
The SSA will look for symptoms like an intense need for order, a fear of dirt or contamination, heightened thoughts of self-harm, and other unwanted thoughts. If you experience anxiety, panic attacks, or other mental health conditions alongside OCD, the SSA will also consider how those affect you.
There are several different types of OCD based on the way symptoms manifest. For example, some people have OCD that’s triggered by a need for cleanliness while others struggle with intrusive thoughts.
Can you get disability benefits for OCD?
It is possible to get disability benefits for OCD if your obsessions and compulsions make it impossible for you to work. However, the SSA has very strict criteria for OCD and other mental health conditions. It can be challenging to qualify even if your symptoms are severe.
The criteria for getting disability benefits with OCD are extensive. Having a diagnosis from a doctor or psychiatrist isn’t enough on its own.
There are three key criteria the SSA will require you to prove in order for you to qualify for disability with OCD:
You experience regular, persistent OCD symptoms.
Your OCD limits your ability to work.
Your OCD is severe and long-term.
1. Prove you experience regular, persistent OCD symptoms
You must meet one or both of these criteria:
You have an involuntary and time-consuming preoccupation with intrusive, unwanted thoughts.
You engage in repetitive or ritualistic behaviors to reduce your stress or anxiety.
2. Prove your OCD limits your ability to work
The SSA evaluates your mental functioning in four key areas:
Your ability to understand, remember, and apply information
Your ability to interact with others
Your ability to concentrate and stay on a single task
Your ability to adapt to changes and otherwise manage behavior
The SSA will need medical evidence that your OCD is extremely limiting in at least one of the areas listed above, or markedly limiting in multiple. Extreme limitation is defined as being unable to function independently in that area. Marked limitation means your ability is seriously limited but you can still manage it on your own.
3. Prove your OCD is severe and long-term
You need to show the SSA that your OCD is severe and persists even though you’ve received treatment for it. If you haven’t received medical treatment, it’ll be harder to qualify. It’s important to show the SSA that you’ve followed any treatment plans prescribed to you by a medical professional.
More specifically, you need evidence of the following:
You’ve had OCD for at least two years.
You receive ongoing medical treatment, like therapy, to help manage your OCD symptoms. This can also include any support you already receive to accomplish daily activities.
You’ve been unable to adapt to changes even with ongoing care and support.
Questions to ask yourself before applying
Your chances of approval are higher if you can answer yes to all or most of the following questions:
Do your compulsions interfere with your work?
Do your compulsive thoughts or actions interrupt daily tasks?
Is it difficult for you to maintain social interactions?
Are you compelled to maintain order or follow a routine to an extent that’s incompatible with your work?
Have you ever thought about harming yourself or others?
Have you ever been hospitalized as a result of your OCD?
My OCD meets the criteria. Now what?
If your OCD meets the SSA’s criteria and you have all the necessary documentation, you’re ready to apply for disability benefits. You can apply even if you don’t think your OCD meets all the criteria, but the application is very involved and might not be worth it if you know you don’t meet the criteria. Here’s what we recommend:
You’ve been diagnosed with OCD but the symptoms are manageable OR
You’re still at work, even if you’re concerned your OCD might make it difficult to keep working
Probably don’t apply if:
Your OCD symptoms are difficult to live with, but they don’t stop you from working OR
You don’t plan to stop working now or in the near future OR
You’re working and earning near or above $1,400 per month
Before you apply, you can also take our free 2-minute disability quiz to quickly see whether or not you’ll qualify. If you do qualify, we can connect you with an experienced disability lawyer to help you navigate the complexities of applying with OCD.
How much is a disability check for OCD?
The average monthly disability check for people with OCD and other similar mental conditions is $1,232.97.
Your exact monthly payment amount will depend on the type of benefits you receive. If you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) — which is usually an option if you’ve worked for at least five of the past 10 years — the maximum possible payment is about $3,600 per month in 2023. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI) — available to individuals who may not have much work history and have little to no income — the maximum monthly benefit is $914 in 2023.
What if my OCD doesn’t meet the criteria?
If your OCD doesn’t meet the criteria, don’t give up just yet. The reality is that getting disability for mental health disorders is challenging no matter how advanced your condition is. Only 20% of applicants get approved on their first try. But after an appeals process, about half of applicants win benefits.
The best way to increase your chances of success is to work with a disability lawyer. It may seem strange to get legal help just to apply for disability, but applicants with lawyers are three times more likely to win disability benefits.
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