The World Health Organization reports that mental illness is the leading cause of disability for individuals in developed countries. In the United States, approximately 25 percent of adults suffer from some form of mental illness, and it is estimated that nearly half of all American adults will develop at least one mental disorder during their lifetime. It is estimated that approximately 43.6 million adults over the age of 18 suffer from mental illness in any given year, and about 9.8 million suffer from a severe mental condition that is disabling.

Mental illness, which includes all diagnosable mental disorders, often results in abnormal thinking, behavior or mood, impaired functioning, and disruptions in social, personal or occupational abilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anxiety and mood disorders are the most common forms of mental illness that strike adults in the U.S. Mental illness is associated with a variety of other conditions and complications that can contribute to disability.

  • Chronic Disease: Mental illness has been linked to an increased occurrence of obesity, cancer, diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease and a number of other conditions.
  • Lower Use of Medical Treatment: Individuals who suffer from mental illness are less likely to seek or comply with medical treatment for chronic conditions, often resulting in adverse outcomes.
  • Substance Use/ Abuse: Mentally ill individuals are more likely to use tobacco products or to abuse alcohol or drugs.

Mental Illness and Social Security Disability

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 9 million individuals in the United States qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in 2013, and of those, about 35.2 percent qualified based on a mental condition. Qualifying for SSDI due to a mental illness, however, can be very difficult. Since the Social Security Administration (SSA) reviewers typically know very little about specific mental conditions, claims should contain as much evidence from mental health professionals as possible.

While the SSA has an official listing of mental impairments in what is commonly referred to as “the blue book”, simply having a listed condition is not typically enough to qualify for SSDI. The condition must meet a variety of criteria pertaining to severity of symptoms and recurrence as well. Even when a mental condition is not included in the blue book, however, it may still be possible to qualify for disability if the symptoms of the illness meet the requirements.