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How Schizophrenia Can Qualify for Disability Benefits

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
January 27, 2023  ·  4 min read
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If you’ve struggled to hold a job because of your schizophrenia, you may qualify for disability benefits. In 2021, the Social Security Administration (SSA) awarded 345,898 workers on the schizophrenia spectrum with monthly benefits and free healthcare.

We’ll explain how the SSA defines schizophrenia, when it can qualify for disability benefits, and how to apply if you qualify.

Is schizophrenia a disability?

According to the SSA, schizophrenia is a disability if it makes it impossible for you to work. It’s important to know that the SSA has very strict criteria for mental disorders like schizophrenia, so it can be difficult to qualify even if your symptoms are severe.

How the SSA defines schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia typically struggle to interpret reality. While exact symptoms may vary, the SSA commonly looks for delusions, hallucinations, or disordered thinking, all of which can disrupt both personal and professional life. Schizophrenia usually requires long-term treatment, which is another of the criteria the SSA uses to evaluate your condition.

Common types of schizophrenia

There are several types of schizophrenia and related conditions, all of which have slightly different symptoms but can qualify for disability if severe enough:

  • Catatonic schizophrenia
  • Hebephrenic schizophrenia
  • Paranoid schizophrenia
  • Residual schizophrenia
  • Undifferentiated schizophrenia
  • Unspecified schizophrenia
  • Brief psychotic disorder
  • Delusional disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophreniform disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder

Learn more about conditions that qualify for disability benefits.

Can you get disability for schizophrenia?

You can get disability benefits for schizophrenia. However, qualifying for disability may be difficult because the SSA has strict criteria for evaluating mental health conditions. The SSA is more likely to approve you if you have another qualifying condition in addition to your schizophrenia.

Other conditions that you may experience alongside schizophrenia — and that can also qualify for disability benefits — include anxiety, depression, OCD, panic disorder, and PTSD.

To qualify, you’ll have to provide thorough medical documentation that your schizophrenia meets all SSA criteria. Since it isn’t always an easy application process, we suggest working with an experienced disability lawyer. (Applicants who work with a lawyer are three times more likely to get approved for benefits.)

Criteria for getting disability with schizophrenia

Qualifying for disability with schizophrenia isn’t easy. But your odds of approval are higher if you have plenty of evidence that your schizophrenia is long-term and so severe that it keeps you from working.

Before you apply, consider whether or not your schizophrenia meets the following criteria. The SSA will want clear evidence that you meet the conditions for criteria A, plus one or both of criteria listed as B and C.

A. You have evidence of at least one of the following: 

  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Disorganized thinking or speech
  • Grossly disorganized behavior
  • Catatonia

AND

B. You have an extreme limitation in at least one of the following areas or a marked limitation in multiple:

  • Understand, remember, or apply new information
  • Interact with others
  • Concentrate or maintain a consistent pace of work
  • Adapt or manage your emotions and behaviors

OR

C. You have evidence that your schizophrenia is serious and persistent — it’s lasted for at least two years and continues to impact your ability to work — even though the following two statement are true:

  • You have received medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support, or care in a structured setting, and these treatments diminish your schizophrenia symptoms.
  • You struggle to adapt to changes in your life or to new demands that aren’t already part of your daily life.

Note that for criteria B, an extreme limitation is present if you are unable to function “independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis.” Having a marked limitation means you may still be able to function independently but that your ability to do so is severely impacted or reduced.

Questions to ask yourself before applying

The SSA may approve you for disability benefits and healthcare if you can answer yes to the questions below:

  • Have you been seeing a psychiatrist for months in addition to any general providers?
  • Have you been hospitalized for your mental health recently?
  • Do you often experience hallucinations or delusions?
  • Is your thinking disordered?
  • Do you struggle to relate to others?
  • Is it difficult for you to adapt to change?
  • Do you struggle to take and incorporate feedback or criticism at work?

My schizophrenia meets the criteria. Now what?

If your schizophrenia meets the criteria, we recommend that you apply for disability benefits as soon as you can. You can still apply if you’re unsure whether or not your condition qualifies, but the application is long and may only be worth it if you’re likely to get approved. Here’s what we suggest:

Apply now if:

  • You’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia AND
  • You frequently experience delusions or hallucinations OR
  • You’ve had schizophrenia for at least two years and you have evidence that you struggle to adapt to changes in your environment

Consider waiting and applying later if:

  • You have schizophrenia but your doctor thinks your symptoms will improve within the next year OR
  • Your schizophrenia hasn’t interfered with your work, even if you worry that it will soon

Probably don’t apply if:

  • Your schizophrenia isn’t stopping you from working even though it’s occasionally disruptive OR
  • You’re working and earning more than about $1,400 per month

You can also take our free 2-minute disability quiz to see whether or not you’ll qualify before you start the application. If you do qualify, we can match you with a vetted disability lawyer who can increase your odds of approval. (You’ll only have to pay the lawyer if you get approved for benefits).

Which type of benefits should you apply for?

The SSA offers two types of benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The benefits program you should apply for depends on your work and income history.

If you’ve worked for at least five of the last 10 years, SSDI offers higher monthly payments. If you have little to no income and assets, you may be eligible for SSI. The two programs do share an application, so you can apply for both to see which offers the best coverage for you. It’s also possible to receive benefits from SSDI and SSI at the same time.

We also have resources to help you if you’re applying for disability for your child or for a loved one.

How much is a disability check for schizophrenia?

The average monthly disability check for schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders is $1,035.29. Your actual check size depends on your work and income history, as well as the type of benefits program you qualify for.

Regardless of your condition, the maximum monthly benefit is $3,627 for SSDI and $914 for SSI in 2023.

What if my schizophrenia doesn’t meet the criteria?

If your schizophrenia doesn’t meet all the criteria but still makes it impossible for you to work, applying may still be worth it. There’s no penalty for applying as long as you’re honest in your application. Just remember that the SSA will look for clear evidence that you cannot work because of your condition. Getting approved is also easier if you’re over 50.

Even if you feel that you’re likely to qualify, the reality is that qualifying for benefits is difficult. Only 20% of applicants get approved on their first try. You can still appeal and win benefits though! More than half of applicants who appeal their case in front of a judge end up getting approved for benefits. Your odds are also higher if you work with a disability lawyer.

For more support with your application, check out our step-by-step guide to applying for disability. You can also tap into these resources for people with disabilities if you need financial assistance during the application process.

The disability benefit process is complicated. We make it easy.

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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