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Depression and Social Security Disability Benefits

  • Published: 2010-05-04 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-08) : Author: Jonathan Ginsberg
  • Synopsis: Common disabling depression symptoms and how to apply for Social Security benefits if you are disabled by depression.

Quote: "The medical evidence supporting one's argument that he or she may meet these criteria, and therefore qualify for disability benefits, is crucial to obtaining a favorable finding."

Main Document

In some people, depression can be so severe that it renders them unable to hold down a job. If that is the case, someone suffering from depression might have a legitimate claim for Social Security Disability.

This article discusses the common disabling depression symptoms as well as how to apply for Social Security benefits if you are disabled by depression.

Depression is one of the most common health conditions in the world. Depression, formally called major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a medical illness that involves the mind as well as the body. It affects how you think and behave and can cause a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may not be able to go about your usual daily activities (like work, for example), and depression may make you feel as if life just isn't worth living anymore. Most health professionals today consider depression a chronic illness that requires long-term treatment. Here, the causes, symptoms and treatments for depression, as well as qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits are discussed.

About Depression

It's not known specifically what causes depression. As with many mental illnesses, it is believed that a variety of biochemical, genetic and environmental factors may cause depression, including neurotransmitter malfunction, hormone imbalance, loss of a loved one, financial problems, and increased stress levels.

While symptoms of depression vary greatly amongst its sufferers, some of the commonly occurring symptoms include the following:

Loss of interest in normal daily activities

Feeling sad, down, and/or hopeless

Crying spells for no apparent reason

Difficulty sleeping

Difficulty making decisions, focusing, and/or concentrating

Unintentional weight gain or loss



Being easily annoyed

Feeling fatigued or weak

Feelings of worthlessness

Loss of interest in sex

Thoughts of suicide or suicidal behavior

Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

There are many treatments available for depression. Standard depression treatment options include:

Medications, such as antidepressants, which can have a wide variety of side effects;

Psychotherapy; - Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT);

Brain stimulation;

Complementary and alternative treatments, such as vagus nerve stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, or deep brain stimulation.

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits Based on Depression

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program designed to pay monetary benefits to qualified applicants who have worked long enough and paid their social security taxes. Based on medical evidence, work history, and education history, the Social Security Administration determines whether or not applicants qualify for benefits and how much each applicant can receive. The Social Security Administration (SSA) sets forth specific criteria when qualifying applicants for benefits. With regard to depression specifically, the medical evidence must be consistent with SSA's classification within the following criteria:

12.04 Affective disorders:

Characterized by a disturbance of mood, accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome. Mood refers to a prolonged emotion that colors the whole psychic life; it generally involves either depression or elation.

The required level of severity for these disorders is met when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied, or when the requirements in C are satisfied.

A. Medically documented persistence, either continuous or intermittent, of one of the following:

1. Depressive syndrome characterized by at least four of the following:

a. Anhedonia or pervasive loss of interest in almost all activities;

b. Appetite disturbance with change in weight;

c. Sleep disturbance;

d. Psychomotor agitation or retardation;

e. Decreased energy;

f. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;

g. Difficulty concentrating or thinking;

h. Thoughts of suicide;

i. Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking;

2. Manic syndrome characterized by at least three of the following:

a. Hyperactivity;

b. Pressure of speech;

c. Flight of ideas;

d. Inflated self-esteem;

e. Decreased need for sleep;

f. Easy distractibility;

g. Involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences which are not recognized;

h. Hallucinations, delusions or paranoid thinking;

3. Bipolar syndrome with a history of episodic periods manifested by the full symptomatic picture of both manic and depressive syndromes (and currently characterized by either or both syndromes);


B. Resulting in at least two of the following:

1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living;

2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning;

3. Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace;

4. Repeated episodes of de-compensation, each of extended duration;


C. Medically documented history of a chronic affective disorder of at least 2 years' duration that has caused more than a minimal limitation of ability to do basic work activities, with symptoms or signs currently attenuated by medication or psychosocial support, and one of the following:

1. Repeated episodes of de-compensation, each of extended duration;

2. A residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause the individual to de-compensate;

3. Current history of 1 or more years' inability to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement, with an indication of continued need for such an arrangement.

These criteria are addressed in much more detail by the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, keep in mind that the depression symptoms which meet the criteria for receipt of benefits may develop as a result of the disease process and/or the medications prescribed and used, or the residual effects of procedures used to treat the disease.

The medical evidence supporting one's argument that he or she may meet these criteria, and therefore qualify for disability benefits, is crucial to obtaining a favorable finding. Physicians are considered experts in their field of practice, and their diagnosis, treatment and prognosis concerning a person's condition are key to determining if someone who suffers with depression qualifies for Social Security Disability benefits.

Jonathan Ginsberg has been practicing Social Security Disability law in the Atlanta, Georgia area for over 20 years. His website can be found at

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