Social Security Disability and Depression

Social Security is going to evaluate a claim for disability based on depression using the criteria that is applied for all claims involving mental disorders. The broad issues around which these criteria are based are those involving the individual’s “ability to understand, to carry out and remember instructions and to respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and customary work pressures in a work setting.” In other words, Social Security is going to evaluate whether a claimant’s depression is so severe that it prevents them from performing all full-time work.

Social Security will want documented evidence of a claimant’s depression – by law, Social Security judges cannot base their decisions on claimant’s subjective statements about their symptoms alone. Rather, adjudicators will look to “history, findings,, and observations from medical sources (including psychological test results), regarding the presence, frequency, and intensity of hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid tendencies; depression or elation; confusion or disorientation; conversion symptoms or phobias; psychophysiological symptoms; withdrawn or bizarre behavior; anxiety or tension.” Social Security will also consider reports from workshops, group homes, and other such facilities. Most persuasive to Social Security adjudicators are records from a treating psychologist or psychiatrist who has treated the claimant for a long time.

As with all mental impairments, Social Security will evaluate whether the claimant’s depression interferes with his/her activities of daily life, such as cleaning, shopping, and, cooking; whether it undermines his/her social functioning with regard to interactions with neighbors, family, and the public; and whether it significantly impairs the claimant’s ability to concentrate and maintain attention for meaningful periods of time. Additionally, as noted above, Social Security will evaluate whether a claimant’s mental impairment constrains their ability “to understand, to carry out and remember instructions and to respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and customary work pressures in a work setting.”

Many claimants filing for disability based on mental impairments, including depression, often explain that they cannot work because they struggle to interact with other people or cannot tolerate being among other people for even short periods of time. While this may be true, these claimants should remember that there are jobs that exist that require little-to-no interaction with other people. Social Security may find these claimants unable to perform jobs that require lots of interaction with other people, but they could find such claimants able to perform work that requires only very little interaction with other people. Therefore, claimants alleging disability due to depression should be prepared to explain why their depression also interferes with activities of daily living or their ability to maintain concentration and attention for extended periods of time. Note that Social Security will consider the side effects of a claimant’s psychiatric medications in assessing their ability to perform full-time work.

Like all Social Security claims, medical evidence is the most helpful tool a claimant has in claim for disability benefits based on depression. Specifically, records indicating a long and consistent history of treatment with a mental health professional provide essential support for any disability claim alleging a mental impairment such as depression.