Can mental illness serve as the basis for Social Security Disability payments?

By / The Claims Process / 481 Comments

Learn how to best present and pursue your claim for Social Security disability payments based on mental illness.

Mental Illness as Disability
Social Security’s definition of disability includes coverage for mental illness; therefore, you can be approved for Social Security disability payments based on a mental illness if your illness is disabling. You can also potentially qualify based on a combination of physical and mental limitations. For a discussion of how Social Security defines disability, see our article What Is Disability According to Social Security Law?

Medical Support for Your Mental Illness Claim
You and your physicians will need to provide documentation of any impairments that you have due to a mental illness. Your treating physician or psychologist or licensed clinical psychiatric social worker will be asked to provide a report that includes your mental health history and clinical findings including mental status examinations and psychological testing. If you are seeing a therapist or counselor, who does not have the licensing listed above, find out whether the counselor works under the supervision of a psychiatrist, for example, and ask that the counselor’s statement be co-signed by the psychiatrist.

The report should include a description of your capacity to understand; to remember and carry out and instructions; and to respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work pressures. Information is also needed about medications you have taken, about their effectiveness, and about any side effects you’ve experienced with the medication. This information can be provided on a Mental Health Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form of the type available on this site at

If you have been hospitalized, Social Security may request your admit and discharge summaries.

Mental health records often contain very private information, so it is good to know that all information gathered by Social Security is confidential and cannot be released to a third party without your written consent. Additionally, information in your claim file, including your mental health records, will be seen only by those responsible for evaluating your claim.

Other Statements to Support Your Disability Claim
If you had problems related to your mental illness before leaving your last job, a statement from your employer or supervisor could be quite helpful to your claim. If you are having trouble taking care of your daily needs or engaging in social interaction, be sure to describe these problems when you file your claim. You can also submit statements from caseworkers, relatives or friends who are aware of how your symptoms interfere with your ability to take care of yourself and interact with others. Forms for making these statements are available at For more information about employer statements, see our article Would It Help My Disability Claim to Get a Statement from My Employer about My Problems at Work?

When and Why Social Security Will Request You See a Doctor
If Social Security does not receive enough information from you, your treating physicians and psychologists, and others who know how your illness limits you, they may ask you to attend a Consultative Examination. Social Security will pay for the exam, which is for evaluation only, not for treatment. If you are asked to go to a Consultative Exam, it is extremely important for you attend and cooperate fully. If you do not, your claim for Social Security Disability payments may be denied.

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