A severe mental disorder can affect an individual’s ability to work in many ways. However, having a definitive diagnosis of a mental disorder is not automatically grounds for receiving Social Security Disability benefits. As with all claims for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA), the burden of proving disability is on the applicant, and proof requires strong objective and/or clinical medical evidence.
In assessing one’s ability to work an 8 hour day (40 hour a week) job for individuals with a severe mental disorder, the SSA is interested not only in a diagnosis (e.g. depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, or PTSD etc.), but in how the condition affects your ability to function overall. Some of the areas the SSA considers are how the condition affects (1) your understanding and memory, (2) your ability to sustain concentration, (3) your ability to socially interact with co-workers, supervisors, and the public, and (4) your ability to adapt within the workplace structure.
Most importantly, objective clinical evidence and functional assessments regarding limitations must come from an acceptable treating source, such as a psychiatrist (M.D.) or a psychologist (Ph.D/Psy.D). They must be consistent beginning with when the individual claims to have become disabled. Specifically, evidence could consist of assessments, prescription history, neuropsychological, IQ, and personality testing, and/or the treating provider’s notes from therapy sessions.
The SSA will also consider additional evidence regarding functional limitations from a non-physician or non-psychologist (e.g. a social worker or Physician’s Assistant) once it determines an impairment to be “severe”. Vital evidence may also include third party statements, as well as testimony from the Claimant, and any witnesses at the Claimant’s hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).