Obtaining Long Term Disability Benefits for Mental Health Issues


     By Burke, Harvey & Frankowski, LLC

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Depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are three similar mental illnesses with defining symptoms and characteristics. People afflicted by these mental health issues are often times unable to work, making it difficult to pay bills and other expenses. In this article, we detail the challenges people face while trying to obtain long term disability benefits.

Most commonly mistaken for one another are depression and bipolar disorder. The major difference between these two illnesses is the presence of manic episodes. Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression because it's characterized by similar symptoms of sadness, loss of energy and irritability; however, it is paired with bouts of increased impulsive activity and extreme elation. Often times, people with bipolar disorder will see a doctor for their depressive symptoms, but do not recognize their manic symptoms as anything out of the ordinary therefore omitting their personality changes and unpredictable mood swings. This is what results in the common misdiagnosis of depression.

Post-traumatic stress disorder usually develops after someone has been through a traumatic event that they are unable to adequately deal with. Some events that commonly lead to PTSD are combat exposure, sexual assault, physical abuse, car accidents and natural disasters. Symptoms of PTSD are the presence of recurring nightmares and flashbacks, feeling numb and distant from others, inability to remember particular parts of the traumatic event, jumpiness, outbursts of anger and many more. Depression is one of the most commonly occurring disorders in PTSD, and people with PTSD are seven times more likely to experience depression. Almost half of all people who experience PTSD also experience diagnosed depression within one month after experiencing a tragic event.

Long term disability benefits for depression are available only if symptoms match the required level of severity outlined by the Social Security Administration. An individual suffering from depression must meet aggressive criteria that prove inability to perform job duties, that the presence of the depressed person at work would present to a danger to themselves or others around them, and/or the individual must have a medically documented history of chronic affective disorder of at least two years' duration that has caused a major inability to do basic activities.

Social Security's disability listing for bipolar disorder requires that a person must have severe episodes of both depression and mania. A number of specific unstable depressive and manic behaviors must be exhibited for someone to qualify. If a person's behavior does fall under SSA's listings, they must also prove that they have had recurrent, lengthy episodes of worsening bipolar symptoms and serious problems with social functioning, focusing or activities of daily life.

To qualify for long term disability benefits for PTSD, one must go through a five-step process and follow SSA's guidelines. First, they must be working, yet making less than $1,010 a month. The disability must also be severe enough to prevent a person from performing basic work activities needed to do most jobs, like walking, standing, lifting, seeing and speaking. Thirdly, documentation of the anxiety that the disorder has caused is essential to receiving benefits. A list of conditions that meet the required level of severity that the anxiety produces needs to be satisfied. The SSA will then assess the person's ability to do their past work, and finally determine if there is any other job that the person can perform.

Medical evidence is crucial to proving any of the above long term disability cases, and it is important to be sure that your physician has maintained adequate records of your illness.

AUTHOR: Burke, Harvey & Frankowski, LLC

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.