Unfortunately, if you only have a mental impairment and no physical impairments, then it is more difficult to prove disability for purposes of Social Security disability. You will need to show that based solely on your mental impairments, you are not able to work. We have clients who tell us that due to their severe anxiety with panic attacks, they do not leave the house except in rare instances. They fear going out and being in an uncomfortable social situation or experiencing anxiety, which can then trigger a panic attack. These same clients tend to also experience severe depression and are just not motivated to go out. Often they rely on friends or relatives to help them do their shopping and look after them. However, despite living in isolation, avoiding people, and not being able to sufficiently look after themselves, they can be denied benefits by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). When explaining to these surprised clients why they were denied benefits, it is necessary to focus on what is required in the workplace and the impact of their mental impairments.
The SSA’s Requirements
SSA recognizes that there are basic mental work requirements in order to be able to engage in work. You must be able to understand, remember and apply information. Similarly, you must be able to concentrate, persist and maintain pace in order to complete a task; and adapt and manage yourself in the workplace. These are the basic work-related mental requirements for all employments. Thus, any symptoms that you experience which interfere with these basic functions, such as lack of ability to focus and concentrate, or inability to interact well with others, could prevent you from being able to work and render you disabled.
In order to prove disability and be entitled to Social Security Disability Benefits, you must meet the definition of “disability” under the SSA’s rules and regulations. There is a five-step process or analysis that the SSA uses to evaluate each claim and determine if you are disabled. In general, to meet the definition of disability you must be unable to engage in the substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.
- In the first step, SSA looks at whether or not you are working. If you are working, you must not be engaging in substantial gainful activity. In the year 2021, substantial gainful activity is defined as earning over $1,310 a month. If you have no earnings or are earning under that amount, then you move on to step two.
- In step two of the process, you must show that your impairment or impairments are severe. To be severe, your impairment(s) must have more than a minimal impact on your ability to engage in basic work activity.
- In step three of the process, it is determined whether your condition meets the criteria of a listing. Social Security created a list of conditions referred to as the “listings”. If you meet the criteria of a listed condition; you will be considered disabled automatically. Depression (12.04) and Anxiety (12.06) are both listed conditions. Thus, if you meet both or either of the criteria of these listings, then you will be automatically considered disabled at step three.
For Depression, listing 12.04, there are 3 parts:
- A criteria: You must show five or more of the following requirements: depressed mood, diminished interest in almost all activities, appetite disturbance with changing weight, sleep disturbance, observable psychomotor agitation or retardation, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or thinking, or thoughts of death or suicide
- B criteria: an extreme limitation of one of the following, or a marked limitation of two of the following limitations:
understanding, remembering or applying information, interacting with others, concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace, adapting or managing oneself.
- C Criteria: medical documentation of a serious or persistent condition going back two years with evidence of treatment, therapy or support that is ongoing and diminishes the symptoms; and minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life.
To meet the listing of Anxiety Disorder, 12.06, the only difference from the depression listing is with the A Criteria.
- The A criteria for Anxiety Disorder requires that you have three or more of the following: restlessness, easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, sleep disturbance.
Panic disorder or agoraphobia with panic attacks and/or disproportionate fear or anxiety about at least two different situations.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder with an involuntary, time-consuming preoccupation with intrusive unwanted thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety.
It is usually with the B criteria where clients fall short. The key is understanding what is meant by a “marked limitation” and “extreme limitation”. A marked limitation means you have a serious limitation with functioning independently, appropriately, effectively and on a sustained basis. An extreme limitation means you are not able to function independently, appropriately, effectively and on a sustained basis. It is generally not enough that you testify that you are unable to care for yourself or function independently, medical documentation supporting a marked or extreme limitation is necessary. Often the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) will find that clients only exhibit a mild or moderate limitation with the B criteria.
Other issues that clients face when pursuing disability based upon mental impairments is that alleged symptoms and their intensity are not supported by the medical evidence. ALJs look at the frequency and type of treatment upon drawing conclusions about the severity of your impairments. For example, somebody who is only taking medication to control their symptoms versus somebody who is taking medications and actively seeking therapy. Also, they look at your daily activities such as whether you are able to drive a car, and handle your own finances. They also look at what you are reporting to your provider. So, it is very important that you indicate your symptoms and their impact to your provider, so it is reflected in your treatment records. What you are telling your provider needs to be consistent with what you are telling the ALJ at a hearing.
- At step 4 in the process, your residual functional capacity is determined. This is an evaluation of your level of disability as measured by your functional ability to engage in basic work activity considering your mental impairments. So, if you cannot concentrate and focus for long periods of time, then your residual functional capacity may include a limitation that you can only engage in work involving simple, repetitive tasks, or require limited periods of concentration. It is then determined whether you are able to do any of your past relevant work considering your residual functional capacity. If you are not deemed able to return to your past relevant work, then you move on to step five.
- At step 5 in the process, the last and final step, it is determined whether you can return to any other work within your residual functional capacity, considering your age, education and work experience. If there are no other jobs that you can do within your residual functional capacity, then you will be considered disabled.
LaBovick Law Group Can Help
If you believe you have a mental impairment that is preventing you from working, applying for social security disability is likely the right choice for you. At the LaBovick Law Group, we provide free consultations where we will review the facts of your case to determine if this is the right program for you. Call us today at (561) 623-3681 for your free evaluation.