Disabling Condition: Mental Disorders

by Editorial Board on September 6, 2010 · 0 comments

in Mental Conditions

Conditions covered include organic brain problems, psychosis, mood (depression, bipolar), mental retardation, anxiety (PTSD, panic, agoraphobia) somatoform, personality, substance abuse, and autism.


  1. Do you see a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health care provider?
  2. Have you sought treatment at MHMR?
  3. How does your mental condition affect your ability to perform:
  • Activities of daily living
  • Social functioning, or
  • Completing tasks in a timely manner
  1. Do you take medications and do you have adverse side effects to them?
  2. Have you ever been hospitalized for this condition?
  3. Do you have anxiety attacks?  If so, what is the frequency and duration?
  4. Do you use alcohol or illegal drugs?
  5. Do you use illegal drugs or alcohol and then experience symptoms of other mental disorders?
  6. Do you use illegal drugs or alcohol to stop the symptoms of your mental disorder?
  7. Are you able to read and write?  Have you had IQ tests performed?  Were you in special education classes?

Psychiatric experts diagnose mental conditions using the criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  As such, Social Security’s requirements also conform to these criteria.  Once a proper diagnosis is made, the severity of the condition is considered based on how the condition affects functioning.  Many of these disorders can be found disabling if they prevent functioning outside of a highly supportive setting.  Mental disorders can also be episodic and repeated episodes (3 a year) can also establish a disability, depending on duration.

Some individuals with limited intellectual functioning are able to work in simple jobs until another medical condition worsens.  This combination of problems can also be found disabling if IQ tests confirm the limited intellectual abilities of the individual.  We often request school records for adults who were in special education programs as a child and ask Social Security to perform IQ tests to establish disability.  We also ask family members to assist in establishing deficits in adaptive functioning (how well the person copes with common life demands).

A common obstacle to establishing disability based on mental impairments is the patient’s concurrent use/abuse of illegal drugs and alcohol (DAA).  This often shows up in medical records as a dual-diagnosis.  While both Social Security and the DSM include substance abuse as a mental disorder, Social Security will not award benefits for this condition if it is “material” to the determination of disability.  This means that the decision maker will have to try to sort out whether the person remains disabled if they stop DAA.

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