Is schizoaffective disorder a disability?

Samir Kadri
Author: Samir Kadri Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Schizoaffective can be a debilitating mental health condition with sufferers experiencing hallucinations, delusional thoughts, a warped sense of reality, and repeated bouts of mania and depression. [1]

These symptoms can significantly impact various areas of a person’s daily life and may make it difficult to maintain employment. Even with a proper medical treatment plan in place, a person may experience schizoaffective episodes which can be problematic in a professional setting.[1]

Symptoms of a schizoaffective episode may include cognitive dysfunction, concentration issues, social struggles, sleep disturbances and communication problems. [1] While these can be troubling, it may be reassuring to learn that schizoaffective disorder could make you eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, which may support with the cost of everyday life. [1]

Is schizoaffective disorder considered a disability?

As schizoaffective disorder can hamper your ability to hold down a job, it can be regarded as a disability. Even people undergoing comprehensive treatment for schizoaffective disorder may develop severe mood swings or intense psychotic symptoms that impair their ability to perform at a professional job. [2]

To qualify for SSD benefits due to schizoaffective disorder, you must meet the criteria set out by the Social Security Agency (SSD). The SSA has specific criteria known as the “Blue Book” that outlines medical conditions that may qualify for disability benefits. [2]

Schizoaffective disorder can be evaluated under Section 12.03 (Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders) or Section 12.04 (Depressive, Bipolar, and Related Disorders). You must meet the specific criteria outlined in the relevant section to be considered disabled.

Section 12.03 – Schizophrenia

This schizophrenia listing requires you exhibit at least one of the following symptoms [1]:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusional thinking
  • Disorganized speech
  • Illogical thinking
  • Emotional isolation

Additionally, you must suffer from two of the following:

  • Inability to complete tasks on time or stay focussed
  • Struggle to form or maintain relationships
  • Limited ability to function autonomously
  • Repeated dysfunctional episodes

A separate way to meet the criteria for SSD through section 12.03 requires you to:

  • Having experienced andbeen diagnosed with psychotic symptoms over two or more years.
  • Be cared for and monitored by a qualified doctor.
  • Be unable to work.

A person must also meet criteria for one of the following:

  • Repeated episodes of decompensation
  • Exacerbated symptoms or episodes when you change your environment or routines
  • An inability to function outside of a highly structured living environment.

Section 12.04 – Depressive, bipolar, and other affective disorders

If you do not meet the criteria for the schizophrenia listing, you may be eligible for SSD payments under the Section 12.04 listing for affective disorders. [1] This requires you to experience recurring episodes of depression during which you suffer from at least four of the following symptoms: [1]

  • Appetite disturbances that impact your weight
  • Reduced energy levels and increased fatigue
  • Difficulty focussing
  • Sleep problems
  • Hallucinations, paranoia,and/or delusions
  • Suicidal thoughts

Alternatively, you can satisfy Section 12.04 requirements if you experience protracted periods of mania, displaying a minimum of four of the following symptoms: [1]

  • Rapid speech
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Hyperactivity
  • Focus issues
  • Paranoia, delusional thoughts,and/or hallucinations

Residual functional capacity analysis

If you are unable to satisfy either Section 12.03 or 12.04, you may still be able to receive benefits following your residual functional capacity (RFC) analysis.

An RFC is the final step in your disability review claim. [1] Here, the SSA will assess your entire medical history and judge how it impacts your ability to work.

Why the severity of your symptoms matters?

The Blue Book requires a severity threshold to be met to qualify for financial aid. [2] Your schizoaffective disorder must be severe enough to significantly impact your ability to work. This means you must demonstrate that your symptoms substantially limit your activities of daily living, social functioning, and ability to maintain concentration, persistence, or pace.

A clear documentation of your medical history, including relevant evidence of delusions, hallucinations, and an inability to socially interact with people would be useful. Documentation would help demonstrate that these symptoms substantially impair your work life, social functioning, and ability to focus is essential to accessing disability benefits.

Professional help during your disability claim

Consulting with a psychiatrist is an integral part of the process of applying for disability benefits. Having comprehensive medical records that support your schizoaffective disorder diagnosis – such as psychiatric evaluations, medications history, and any hospital stays – will be pivotal in your disability application. [1]

Remember that the SSD application process can be complex, and it may take time for a decision to be made. Be patient and prepared to provide additional information or attend further evaluations if necessary. Seeking assistance from professionals specializing in SSD cases can greatly increase your chances of a successful application.

It is advisable to consult with a disability attorney or advocate who specializes in SSD cases. They can guide you through the application process, help you gather the necessary documentation, and assist in presenting your case effectively, all of which increase your chances of approval. [2]

If your application is unsuccessful, an attorney can facilitate your appeal process so you can keep fighting for the benefits you require.

  1. Schizoaffective Disorder and Social Security Disability. (n.d.).
  2. Schizoaffective Disorder and Disability Benefits | Disability Benefits Help. (n.d.).
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Samir Kadri
Author Samir Kadri Writer

Samir Kadri is a medical writer with a non-profit sector background, committed to raising awareness about mental health.

Published: Jul 20th 2023, Last edited: Jan 31st 2024

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