To qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you must first meet the income and resource criteria. Your countable income must not be more than the allowable amount for you to receive SSI, even if you are mentally disabled. If you meet the income requirements, you must then provide the Social Security Administration with clear examples of how your mental condition affects your daily living and interferes with your ability to work.
Supporting Your Claim
When you apply for SSI, along with meeting the low-income requirement, you must provide medical evidence that supports your claim that you suffer from a mental disorder that impairs or limits your ability to work. Medical evidence includes documentation of symptoms, physical examination, laboratory findings and signs of psychological abnormalities. The condition must already have lasted or is expected to last for a minimum period of 12 consecutive months. Qualifying mental disorders must fall within at least one of nine diagnostic categories—schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, affective disorders, mental retardation, anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, personality disorders, substance addiction and autistic or other developmental disorders.
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Severity of Impairment
The Disability Determination Service (DDS) uses certain guidelines to measure the severity of a person's mental impairment. The DDS looks at whether a mental impairment significantly limits your overall functioning and ability to work a job for which you are paid. To qualify as a disability, a mental disorder must affect your life in four primary areas of functioning. The impairment must limit your ability to perform the activities of daily living. A mental disorder must also affect your ability to concentrate and focus your attention so that you are unable to complete tasks. In addition, mental impairment must prevent you from interacting with others and functioning at a social level. Finally, mental impairment must affect your ability to effectively handle stress. Decompensation is characterized by episodes that increases your symptoms, decreasing your ability to function. Depending on the type of mental disorder you have, you must prove that you have difficulties in at least two or three of these four areas of functioning. The DDS determines whether the impairment severely limits your ability to function independently on a continuous basis.
Types of Evidence
Acceptable forms of medical evidence relating to your mental impairment include a history of the disorder, record of treatments and hospitalizations, results of psychological testing, notes from clinical interviews with a psychiatrist or psychologist, employer evaluations and the written observations of friends and family members. Social Security may need to obtain evidence covering a long period of time in order to determine if your level of functioning varies. The DDS will examine whether any attempts you have made to work have been short-term. Your behavior while you worked as well as the reasons for terminating your employment may be relevant to your case.
Psychological testing measures a person's intelligence and assesses cognitive and emotional functioning. Assessments and screening tests are used to evaluate a person for psychological or behavioral abnormalities. Neuropsychological assessments help confirm problems with brain function, such as difficulties with perception, problem-solving ability, attention and concentration or inappropriate social behavior. When reviewing a case, the DDS professionals look to identify changes in personality, memory impairment, the inability to control impulses, decreased intellectual ability and noticeable limits in performing the activities of daily living. Reviewers also look for a history of one year or more of not being able to function outside an extremely structured and supportive living environment.