Depression can affect your disability application and disability determination in various ways. On the one hand, it is not uncommon for disability applicants to feel depressed because of their inability to continue working and provide for their families, particularly after many months of unemployment.
Under this scenario, the applicant’s depression is an ancillary element to the primary cause of disability—which could be any other ailment or combination of ailments. When the depression is added to the primary disability-causing ailment, it is important to note how the depression also affects the applicant’s ability to sustain work overall. Depending on the severity of the depression that the applicant experiences, non-severe depression or untreated depression will not, standing alone, usually result in a disability finding.
Depression for some individuals, without the addition of other ailments, can be severe enough to allow a finding of disability. In order to allow such a disability finding, the applicant must first of all be in treatment for their depression. This will require review of the treatment records including medications and analysis of the treating doctor’s assessments regarding the severity of the depression, and more importantly, the work-related limitations that result from the diagnosis.
If an individual meets or equals a Social Security listed impairment, then they are considered to be disabled. Listing 12.04 is for Affective Disorders, which according to Social Security are characterized by a disturbance of mood, accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome. Additionally, mood refers to a prolonged emotion that colors the whole psychic life and it generally involves either depression or elation.
Under this listing, the applicant’s various symptoms will be matched up with the listed symptoms of 12.04A1, and will be required to show at least four of the following, including: anhedonia, appetite disturbance with change in weight; sleep disturbance; psychomotor agitation; decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness; difficulty concentrating or thinking; thoughts of suicide; or hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking.
The applicant who is able to show four of the symptoms listed above must also show at least two of the following (also known as the B criteria): marked restriction of activities of daily living, marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning, marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace, or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. Where the applicant is unable to meet the B criteria, he or she can still meet or equal the listing by establishing the C criteria which is 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.
The C criteria also requires one of the following: repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration; or 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 decompensate; or 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.
Social Security Disability applicants should understand the difference between establishing depression as the primary disability impairment versus it being an element that adds to other impairments. If you need help deciding strategy or legal theories in your case consider getting a disability attorney to help out, as they will be experienced in these rules and be able to provide advice that can give you a better chance to win your case.