A crippling burden

Many people in Illinois struggle with depression. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that in 2012, as many as 16 million U.S. adults suffered one or more depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks. As most disability lawyers in Chicago know, these episodes can be seriously debilitating.

Depression can be characterized by feelings of anxiety, fatigue and apathy, in addition to sadness. Many victims experience physical symptoms, including appetite changes, excessive or disturbed sleep, cramps and headaches. Some people struggle with memory, concentration and decision-making. These symptoms can interfere with daily life and ability to work. Fortunately, people with severe depression may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

Defining disabling depression

An individual with depression may receive a medical vocational allowance if the Social Security Administration finds the individual incapable of “substantial gainful activity.” SGA is work yielding monthly income greater than $1,070. More directly, an individual may qualify for benefits by meeting one of two sets of criteria for affective disorders established in the SSA’s “Blue Book” of impairment listings.

The first set of requirements involves specific symptoms of depression. The individual must prove the condition causes at least two of four effects. These effects are episodes of decompensation; problems with concentration or task completion; difficulty performing “activities of daily living,” such as self-care; and inability to appropriately interact socially. Additionally, the individual must document four symptoms from the SSA’s list, which includes:

  • Physical changes, such as low energy levels, disturbed sleep, changes in appetite and weight, purposeless movements or a slowdown of physical activity
  • Emotional changes, such as feelings of inadequacy or guilt, loss of interest in most activities and suicidal thoughts
  • Cognitive changes, such as issues with thinking or focusing
  • Perceptive changes, such as hallucinations, delusions or paranoia

The SSA also allows individuals with depression to qualify for benefits under broader criteria. The individual must experience persistent, worsening episodes of decompensation and rely on a supportive living arrangement. The individual also must show that changes to his or her personal environment and daily mental demands would trigger decompensation.

Preparing the claim

Many effects of depression cannot be objectively proven, so individuals should provide as much evidence as possible. Acceptable documentation includes professional assessments, lists of medications or other treatments and records of hospitalizations associated with the depression. Applicants also should ask a treating physician to complete a Residual Functional Capacity form. This details how the individual’s specific symptoms prevent him or her from performing work-related tasks.

Individuals who suffer from other physical conditions should also document those. Qualifying for SSD benefits based on mental disorders alone can be difficult; individuals who establish multiple impairments may have a higher likelihood of claim approval.