Is depression a disability?

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Depression is a common mental health disorder that affects over 8% of US adults. Depression can cause issues with professional functioning, self-care, and social abilities, causing many people to experience severe impairments. Some organizations provide financial and professional support to individuals when depression impacts their ability to work.

What is considered a disability?

A disability is any mental or physical impairment that reduces an individual’s functional capability. There are several types of disabilities, and different organizations define disabilities in different ways [1][2].

The World Health Organization (WHO) compiled a disability assessment that measures an individual’s level of functioning in six areas: self-care, mobility, cognition, interacting with others, engaging in community activities, and life activities. This assessment then scores the individual’s level of disability from mild to extreme [3].

As such, according to this assessment, disability can be defined by impaired functioning in one or more areas of daily life, with more severe disabilities impacting a higher number of areas.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) corroborates this, defining a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” [4]

Disabilities can have various causes, including [1]:

  • Neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Progressive conditions, such as muscular dystrophy
  • Genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as Down syndrome
  • Complications from chronic physical health conditions, such as nerve damage or vision loss from diabetes
  • Injuries, such as a traumatic head injury or limb loss
  • Mental illness, such as depression or schizophrenia

How does depression affect your ability to work?

Depression can impact people differently, so symptoms may not be the same for everyone. Depression symptoms can include [5]:

  • Persistent depressed mood
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Issues sleeping or feeling the need to sleep far more than usual
  • Changes in appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Physical pains, such as stomach problems, headaches, and backache

If someone experiences these symptoms at high severity, it can have a detrimental impact on their ability to work. Research shows that major depressive disorder can result in over 27 lost workdays per individual due to absences or poor professional performance [6].

The impact of depression on an individual’s ability to work might vary depending on their professional role and the severity of their symptoms. One person with depression may be able to continue working with little disruption to their productivity, while another person might be severely impaired [4].

Is depression considered a disability?

According to the WHO Disability Assessment Schedule (WHODAS) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability significantly impacts an individual’s ability to function in one or more life aspects [3][4].

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that has lasted or will last for at least 12 months, or result in death, that prevents an individual from engaging in specific activities [2].

For many people, depression does cause significant impairment in daily, professional, or social functioning. In these cases, depression would be considered a disability by these definitions.

It is important to note that, in some cases, depression is considered an impairment while in others, it may qualify as a disability. If a claim is made for disability benefits, eligibility will depend on the presenting symptoms and level of impairment [7].

Types of disability benefits you can claim for depression

If depression impacts an individual’s ability to work, it is required for employers to make reasonable accommodations to help the individual manage their responsibilities. This might include providing an alternative environment in which to work, allowing for additional breaks, or altering shift patterns [8].

If your mental health condition causes substantial limitations to your ability to work regardless of these accommodations, you may be eligible for disability benefits.

Benefits that are available for individuals with clinical depression include Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI), both provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA) [9].

SSDI is available for individuals who have previously worked and earned credits for this benefit. In order to receive SSDI benefits, individuals may require to show evidence of at least five years of work out of the previous ten. SSI is for those with limited income and assets who have not previously worked or accumulated enough credits [9].

To qualify for these benefits, an individual’s symptoms and level of disability will be assessed and evaluated [2].

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides criteria for evaluating all types of disability. Criteria for depression include medical documentation of five or more of the following symptoms of depression [10]:

  • Low mood
  • Feelingsof guilt or worthlessness
  • Change in appetite and weight
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Reduced interest in hobbies and activities
  • Visible restlessness or reduction in movement
  • Low energy levels
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Suicidal ideation

Furthermore, the individual will have a substantial reduction in cognitive abilities in one or more of the following areas:

  • Interpersonal interactions
  • Ability to understand, recall, or utilize information
  • Ability to focus on and complete tasks
  • Behavioral and emotional regulation and ability to maintain safety and self-care

Alternatively, if the mental condition has persisted for at least two years, there is medically documented evidence of the following:

  • Medical and psychological treatments for the condition
  • Inability to manage daily and environmental demands despite treatment, or that an increase in demands has led to substantial deterioration in the condition

How to apply for disability benefits

You can apply for disability benefits online or at an SSA office in person. This may be a lengthy process and requires several pieces of evidence and documentation to assess and prove eligibility.

Information required for the application of SSI or SSDI includes [7]:

  • Your date and place of birth
  • Your social security number
  • Information and contact details of any doctors and healthcare providers you have seen
  • Medical records of any tests and treatments you have received
  • Dates and details of appointments
  • Details of any inpatient stays at a hospital or facility
  • Information of types and dosages of medications you are currently prescribed

The more documentation you can collate and provide relating to your condition, the better your chance of demonstrating the level of disability incurred by your condition. Collecting records of all appointments and treatments from doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, or other medical professionals you have seen is advisable [7].

Furthermore, a physician may be asked to complete a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form. This will provide details of your condition, including the duration and severity of your symptoms and how they have impacted your abilities at work, social skills, self-care, cognition, and general well-being [11].

Additionally, you must provide information about your work history, including places of work, the type of work you completed, and how long you were employed. You will also need to provide evidence of your income through tax returns or income statements [7].

SSA will then evaluate your application and decide if you are eligible for disability benefits and inform you via letter.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Reviewed 2020). Disability and Health Overview. CDC. Retrieved from
  2. Social Security Administration. (n.d). How Do We Define Disability? SSA. Retrieved from
  3. World Health Organization. (2012). WHO Disability Assessment Schedule 2.0 (WHODAS 2.0).WHO. Retrieved from
  4. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network. (Updated 2023). Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace and the ADA. ADA. Retrieved from
  5. National Institute of Mental Health. (Reviewed 2023). Depression. NIMH. Retrieved from
  6. Kessler, R.C., Akiskal, H.S., Ames, M., Birnbaum, H., Greenberg, P., Hirschfeld, R.M., Jin, R., Merikangas, K.R., Simon, G.E., & Wang, P.S. (2006). Prevalence and Effects of Mood Disorders on Work Performance in a Nationally Representative Sample of U.S. Workers. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(9), 1561–1568. Retrieved from
  7. Social Security Administration. (2022). Disability Benefits. SSA. Retrieved from
  8. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (2016). Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights. EEOC. Retrieved from
  9. Social Security Administration. (n.d). Overview of Our Disability Programs. SSA. Retrieved from
  10. Social Security Administration. (n.d). Disability Evaluation Under Social Security – 12.00 Mental Disorders – Adult.Retrieved from
  11. Disability Benefits Help. (2023). Depression and Social Security Disability. Retrieved from
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr is a writer with a background in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University.

Published: Jul 20th 2023, Last edited: Nov 10th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jul 20th 2023