SSDI and Depression

A Top Ten Disability Group in the U.S.

SSDI and Depression

Depression is all too common in the United States. One 2020 study showed that nearly one in 10 people aged 12 and up reported suffering from depression within the previous 12 months. Of course, that doesn’t mean that one in 10 people is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). In other words, not everyone who suffers from depression meets the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) definition of “disabled.”

Symptoms of Depression

There’s more to depression than sadness or a loss of energy. And, different people experience depression differently. Some common symptoms of depression include: 

  • Persistent sadness or feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Loss of energy/fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Irritability

Depression may also trigger physical symptoms that you might not connect with a mental health condition. Some examples include: 

  • Stomach / digestive issues
  • Back pain 
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches (or worsening of migraines, if you already suffered from them)

These symptoms vary in number, frequency, and severity. So, one person suffering from depression may be able to largely stay on task and carry on, while another may be unable to perform their job responsibilities or even reliably attend to their own care. 

Disability Benefits for Depression

Depression is included in the Listing of Impairments in the Social Security Blue Book (technically known as “Disability Evaluation Under Social Security”). The Blue Book sets forth clear criteria for determining whether someone suffering from a listed disorder is eligible for SSDI. For depressive disorders, the applicant must suffer from at least five of the following: 

  • 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
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

In addition, the applicant must fulfill the criteria for either Paragraph B or Paragraph C in the listing. 

Paragraph B Requirements for Depressive Disorders

To fulfill Paragraph B criteria, the applicant must show either extreme limitation of one of the following four functionalities or marked limitation of at least two. 

  • Understand, remember, or apply information 
  • Interact with others 
  • Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace 
  • Adapt or manage oneself 

The Blue Book sets forth in greater detail what each of these functional areas includes. For example, here’s how the ability to “understand, remember, or apply information” is described: 

This area of mental functioning refers to the ability to learn, recall, and use information to perform work activities. Examples include: understanding and learning terms, instructions, procedures; following one- or two-step oral instructions to carry out a task; describing work activity to someone else; asking and answering questions and providing explanations; recognizing a mistake and correcting it; identifying and solving problems; sequencing multi-step activities; and using reason and judgment to make work-related decisions. 

Paragraph C Requirements for Depressive Disorders

Paragraph C is an alternative to Paragraph B. Paragraph C requires the applicant to show that the condition is serious and persistent. That requires a showing that: 

  • The applicant has a medically documented history of the condition existing for at least two years, and
  • That there is ongoing medical care, mental health therapy, or supportive/structured environment that diminishes symptoms, and
  • Minimal capacity to adapt to changes in environment or demands

Qualifying for SSDI When You Don’t Meet the Blue Book Criteria

The SSA knows that they can’t possibly list every medical condition that could be disabling, predict the exact nature of disabling symptoms and limitations, or anticipate every combination of disorders that might cause disability. So, there is another assessment available when a condition doesn’t meet or equal a listed disability: residual functional capacity for engaging in substantial gainful activity.

Residual functional capacity means the amount that you are still able to do despite whatever limitations your medical condition creates. This assessment is more holistic and takes into account the combined impact of different medical conditions, all symptoms, and additional variables like side effects from the medication you must take for your condition. The goal is to determine whether or not you are able to engage in substantial gainful activity despite all of those limitations.

Once the SSA has assessed your residual functional capacity, they will first consider whether you are able to continue to do or return to the type of work you were doing before. If they decide you are, you will not qualify for SSDI. 

If they decide you are not, they will move on to assess whether or not you are able to adapt to other types of work available in the national economy. Note that at this stage, the SSA does not consider whether those types of jobs are locally available to you. If the SSA determines that you are not able to return to your prior work and you are not able to adapt to other work that is available in the national economy, then you are medically qualified for SSDI.

Putting Together a Strong SSDI Application for Depression

As you can see, a deep understanding of the Blue Book criteria and what type of evidence is necessary to prove each element can make a tremendous difference in the strength of your application. Though you will have the opportunity to appeal and to provide additional information if your initial claim is denied, that process can delay your benefits by several months to two years or more. In other words, it’s in your best interest to put together the strongest, most well-documented application possible at the start.

Our experienced disability benefits advocates understand what the SSA is looking for and know how to help you assemble the evidence you need to submit a thorough, effective application. And, if your claim has been denied, our advocates can identify the weak points in the documentation and help build up your case for reconsideration or the ALJ hearing. 


To learn more about how we can help, call help. Call (800) 800-3332, or fill out our contact form here.

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