Depression is one of the most prevalent psychological conditions for which people apply for Social Security Disability. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 7.6% of all individuals over 12 years of age are suffering from depression at any given time.
Symptoms of Depression
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), an individual is experiencing clinical depression if he or she suffers from five or more of the following symptoms during the same two-week period:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
- Significant weight gain or weight loss when not dieting, or a decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
- A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.
Typically, depression is diagnosed by a family doctor or treating psychologist or psychiatrist. Treatment options usually include counseling, medication or, in very serious cases (typically involving actual or potential suicide attempts), inpatient hospitalization.
What Are the Causes of Depression?
As with most psychiatric illness, the exact causes of depression are often difficult to pin down. However, medical literature seems to indicate that certain factors increase the risk of developing depression. In addition, more often than not, multiple factors play a role in causing depression. Sometimes these are genetic, biological, environmental, or psychological in nature. However, it is generally accepted that the following factors may play a role in someone experiencing depression:
- A family history of depression;
- Traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one, physical or mental abuse, and experiencing acts of violence;
- Drug or alcohol abuse;
- Financial problems;
- Certain medications; and
- Serious injuries or illness, such as cancer, stroke or chronic pain.
Is There a Social Security Listing for Depression?
The most common way that someone can be awarded Social Security Disability benefits for depression is to show that he or she meets the Social Security Listing for depression. A Social Security Listing is a very specific set of medically documented findings, symptoms, and objective evidence.
If someone can prove, through medical evidence, that they meet a listing, then it is not necessary to prove anything more. That is, they don’t need to prove that they cannot do their “past relevant work” or prove that they cannot do any other work in the regional or national economy, as is the case with most other claims.
The Social Security Listing for depression can be found at 12.04. This listing requires that the person applying for disability have medically documented evidence of at least five of the following symptoms:
- Depressed mood;
- Diminished interest in almost all activities;
- Appetite disturbance with change in weight;
- Sleep disturbance;
- Observable psychomotor agitation or retardation;
- Decreased energy;
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking; and/or
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
Once these symptoms have been medically documented, you will also need to show that you have an “extreme limitation” of one, or “marked limitation” of two, of the following areas of mental functioning:
- Understanding, remembering, and/or applying information
- Interacting with others
- Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace
- Adapting and managing oneself
The bottom line is that all of the terms above are highly technical, and the likelihood of proving your case without getting specific statements tailored to the language in the Social Security listing is low. Working with medical providers and/or attorneys who are familiar with the Social Security rules is imperative. Winning your disability case for depression is very difficult unless you have extremely serious symptoms, and your treating doctors are supportive.
Residual Functional Capacity for Depression
If you cannot show that you meet the listing for depression, you may still qualify for benefits if the Administrative Judge finds that your “residual functional capacity” prevents you from working. To determine your residual functional capacity, the Administrative Law Judge will look at all of your impairments—mental and physical—and determine what sort of work you may be able to do.
Oftentimes, people suffering from depression also have physical problems, such as chronic pain, or other chronic illnesses (such as heart disease or diabetes) also make it difficult to do physical work. With depression, a person’s ability to concentrate and stay on task during the workday is often affected.
Moreover, people suffering from serious depression are likely to miss work due to lack of motivation or medical appointments. If the Administrative Law Judge finds that you’re going to be having unexcused absences or be off task while at work due to mental illness, they may find you disabled for these reasons as well.
Please be aware that it is very difficult to win Social Security Disability benefits for depression unless you’re treating providers are very supportive and write specific statements on your behalf supporting your disability claim. Having a supportive treating family physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist is very important for these types of claims.
The following are some of the clinics in West Michigan we find to be most helpful in supporting Social Security Disability Claims for mental illness:
Holland Hospital Behavioral Health Services
854 Washington, #330
Holland, MI 49423
Start & Associates
320 Columbus Avenue
Grand Haven, MI 49417
Psychology Associates of Grand Rapids PC
100 Parchment Drive SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546
If You Were Denied Disability for Your Depression, Don’t Give. We Want to Help.
Unfortunately, the sad reality is that many people, even those people who are clearly suffering from debilitating depression, are at first denied benefits. The majority of claims have to be brought before an Administrative Law Judge at a hearing. Furthermore, when someone is alleging primarily psychiatric illness as a basis for disability benefits, it is even more difficult to win.
This is mostly because it is more difficult to measure or test for purely psychological problems. That is, when someone has a broken leg you know they have a broken leg. It is more difficult to know for sure when someone actually has legitimate mental illness. This is why it is critical to work with credible medical providers and legal professionals in supporting your claim.
In addition to preparing the medical evidence in your case, we will meet with you in person several times prior to prepare you for the questions the judge is going to ask. We know that having to testify before an Administrative Law Judge is a nerve-racking process, which is why we want you to be as prepared as possible.
Nolan and Shafer, PLC is unlike many other nationwide and large firms where you’re treated as a case number. Here, you have one lawyer from the start to finish of your claim. When you choose to work with a disability attorney from our team, you won’t pay us any fess until we win your case.
“I would highly recommend Nolan & Shafer! Matt was my attorney and he was always accommodating, very kind, and helpful.”Courtney S.
“Great job Matt and Nolan’s & Shafer. If you need representation give them a call!”Steve G.
“He is someone I trust and now am happy to call him a friend.”Marvin D.
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