Jul 20th 2023
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.
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 .
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 .
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.” 
Disabilities can have various causes, including :
Depression can impact people differently, so symptoms may not be the same for everyone. Depression symptoms can include :
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .
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) .
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 .
To qualify for these benefits, an individual’s symptoms and level of disability will be assessed and evaluated .
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 :
Furthermore, the individual will have a substantial reduction in cognitive abilities in one or more of the following areas:
Alternatively, if the mental condition has persisted for at least two years, there is medically documented evidence of the following:
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 :
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 .
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 .
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 .
SSA will then evaluate your application and decide if you are eligible for disability benefits and inform you via letter.
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