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Obtaining SSDI Benefits When Your Disability Is Invisible


While society is not always accommodating toward individuals with disabilities, if the impairment is visible from the outside, people are more sympathetic and willing to help. This same level of understanding is not typically extended to those with disabilities that are not apparent. Nevertheless, many disabled persons experience an inability to work and turn to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for financial support. Millions of Americans suffer from mental illness, many of which are completely debilitating, but these conditions are generally viewed with skepticism, and when it comes to using mental illness as a basis for SSDI benefits, examiners may take a similar approach. Efforts are growing among those suffering from so-called “invisible disabilities” to educate the public about the existence and effect of these ailments, but for those seeking SSDI benefits for a mental illness, they need to know the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) current protocol for reviewing such claims. A discussion of some of the mental disorders specifically recognized as a disability by the SSA, and how to prove a mental condition is disabling generally, will follow below.

Mental Impairment Listing

There are two methods used by the SSA to determine if an individual has a disabling condition:

  • the individual meets the medical criteria for a condition listed in the SSA’s “listings of impairments;” or
  • the individual is given a medical vocational allowance because the impairment prevents him/her from sustaining regular and consistent employment.

Meeting the requirements of a listing in the blue book is quite difficult due to the narrow and specific types of dysfunction an SSDI claimant must demonstrate to satisfy the SSA’s definition of how a particular impairment must manifest to be considered disabling. Some of the mental disorders recognized by the SSA include:

  • neurocognitive disorders (Alzheimer’s, dementia or Huntington’s disease);
  • schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders;
  • mood disorders (depression);
  • anxiety-related disorders (obsessive compulsive disorder);
  • autism;
  • eating disorders;
  • PTSD and other trauma-induced disorders; and
  • learning disabilities and intellectual development disorders (low IQ).

Note that being diagnosed with a condition listed in the blue book is not enough by itself for the SSA to find a disability. There must also be evidence of the condition’s impact on the performance of daily life, ability to function in society and to complete tasks.

If a person does not meet a listing, the situation for the majority of SSDI claimants, the SSA then looks at the individual’s mental residual functional capacity to perform past work or to perform work in another field. Essentially, the SSA examiners will look at what type of work a person could perform in spite of the mental disorder, and if no work is possible, disability benefits will be awarded. Some limitations normally considered include:

  • ability to understand and remember instructions;
  • ability to get along with others;
  • ability to tolerate stress;
  • ability to complete tasks in a reasonable amount of time; and
  • ability to adapt to a changing environment.

Proving Disability

Unlike many of the disabling conditions used to claim SSDI benefits, much of the diagnosis and treatment of mental impairments are based on subjective evidence, and not objective medical testing. Thus, individuals with mental disorders need to be as candid and thorough about the impact of these conditions with their providers as possible. This transparency will allow more information about the severity of a mental disorder to get into a person’s medical records, which is the evidence examiners principally take into account. Consequently, all records from mental health providers, hospitalizations related to the condition, and medications taken to control its effects should be included in the SSDI claim application. An experienced disability insurance attorney is the best source to learn which records would be most helpful to a claim.

Get Help

Receiving SSDI benefits is essential to the financial stability of millions of Americans, and if you find yourself in this group, give yourself the best chance at approval by working with an experienced disability insurance attorney. Farrell Disability Law understands how to win disability claims, and is available to evaluate the facts of your case. Contact the Jacksonville office for a free consultation.



Farrell Disability Law is located in Jacksonville, FL and serves clients throughout Florida, including Jacksonville Beach, Jacksonville, Atlantic Beach, Orange Park, Doctors Inlet, Neptune Beach, Callahan, Bryceville, Middleburg, Fernandina Beach, Clay County, Duval County and Nassau County.


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Jacksonville, Florida
Phone: 904-388-8870 Primary: 904-388-8870 Fax: 904-339-9590


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Orlando, Florida 32801
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