What Mental Health Disorders Qualify for Disability

Discover what mental health disorders qualify for disability, from autism to SSDI, and navigate eligibility with ease.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 28, 2024

What Mental Health Disorders Qualify for Disability

Mental Health Disorders for Disability

Understanding what constitutes a disability is a complex matter, especially when discussing mental health disorders. As the understanding and acceptance of mental health conditions grow, so do the provisions for support and assistance. This includes disability benefits for certain qualifying mental disorders.

Qualifying Mental Disorders

While physical disabilities may often be more visible, mental disabilities can have an equal, if not greater, impact on an individual's ability to function and maintain gainful employment. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes a range of mental health disorders that may qualify for disability benefits. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Neurocognitive disorders
  • Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders
  • Depressive, bipolar, and related disorders
  • Intellectual disorder
  • Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Somatic symptom and related disorders
  • Personality and impulse-control disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Trauma- and stressor-related disorders

The complete list can be found on the SSA's website.

Disability Benefits Criteria

Qualifying for disability benefits based on a mental health disorder requires that the disorder prevents the individual from maintaining gainful employment. Severe depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and other mental health conditions that significantly hinder daily functioning and work capabilities can all potentially qualify for benefits.

However, eligibility for disability benefits isn't determined solely by the presence of a mental health disorder. The SSA also assesses the severity of the individual's condition and its impact on their ability to work. This includes evaluating any restrictions on the individual's daily activities, difficulties in social functioning, difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and any repeated episodes of decompensation.

In addition to the individual's mental health status, the SSA also considers other factors, such as the individual's age, education, and work experience.

Qualifying for disability benefits can provide much-needed financial assistance for individuals struggling with severe mental health disorders, covering living expenses, medical bills, and other financial obligations. It's essential for those struggling with these conditions to understand what mental health disorders qualify for disability benefits and the criteria they must meet to be eligible.

Autism and Disability Benefits

Autism, being one of the recognized mental health disorders, can qualify an individual for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides benefits to those who, due to their condition, are unable to maintain gainful employment.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Criteria

The SSA has specific criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to qualify for disability benefits. According to SSA's Blue Book, the individual must exhibit both qualitative deficits in social interaction and communication, as well as restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities SSA.gov.

To qualify, an adult must have medical documentation showing all of the following:

  1. Difficulty in social interaction.
  2. Difficulty in verbal and nonverbal communication.
  3. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

For a child to qualify, they must have medical documentation showing both of the following:

  1. Qualitative deficits in verbal communication, nonverbal communication, and social interaction.
  2. Significantly restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities Social Security Administration.

SSA Evaluation Process

Once the Social Security Administration (SSA) receives an application, they evaluate the claim based on the severity and duration of the disability, as well as the individual's ability to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). For mental health disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder, the SSA evaluates:

  • The individual's daily living activities.
  • Their social functioning.
  • Their concentration, persistence, or pace.
  • If there are episodes of decompensation, i.e., worsening of symptoms Social Security Administration.

The SSA uses the evidence provided in the individual's medical records, reports from treating physicians, and other relevant information to make a determination. The evaluation process is thorough and can take several months. It is important to provide as much detail as possible in the application to ensure an accurate assessment.

Applying for Disability Benefits

Applying for disability benefits due to mental health disorders, including autism, entails meeting specific eligibility requirements and providing extensive documentation.

Eligibility Requirements

For a person to qualify for Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits due to a mental illness, the application must provide information illustrating significant functional impairment clearly tied to the person’s diagnosis.

Disability can be based on impairments from one or a combination of illnesses. If a person has a serious mental illness and physical health issues, the combination may meet the disability criteria [2].

The impairment tied to the illness(es) must have “lasted or be expected to last 12 months or more or result in death". SSA does not cover “short-term” disability [2].

Mental and psychological disabilities such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders can qualify for benefits from the SSA if they prevent individuals from maintaining gainful employment.

Documentation and Medical Records

In order to apply and qualify for disability benefits, the applicant must provide comprehensive medical records and documentation. This should include details of the diagnosed mental health disorder, its symptoms, and the impact it has on the individual's ability to function and work.

It is essential for the applicant to provide concrete evidence showing the severity of their condition and the limitations it imposes. This may involve records of hospitalizations, therapy sessions, medication history, and statements from treating physicians or mental health professionals.

Social Security Disability benefits can cover living expenses, medical bills, and other financial obligations for individuals with mental illnesses, paid monthly to alleviate financial burdens resulting from the inability to work [1].

It's crucial to understand the eligibility requirements and the importance of thorough documentation when applying for disability benefits due to mental health disorders, including autism. With the right knowledge and preparation, the application process can become more manageable and straightforward.

Disability Benefits Programs

When it comes to understanding what mental health disorders qualify for disability, it's important to recognize the specific programs through which these benefits are paid. In the United States, the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two primary programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) [1]. Each program has its own set of qualification criteria and serves different populations.


SSDI and SSI are two separate programs designed to assist individuals with disabilities. The key difference between these programs lies in their eligibility requirements and the populations they serve.

SSDI is available to disabled adult workers who have paid Social Security taxes. The program provides benefits based on the individual's earnings record, meaning they must have worked a certain number of years and contributed to the Social Security system through payroll taxes.

On the other hand, SSI is a needs-based program that does not require a work history. It is designed to help individuals who are disabled, blind, or aged (65 or older) and who have limited income and resources. The program has strict limitations on income and asset holdings, requiring individuals to fall below specified levels to qualify.

Program Available To Requirements
SSDI Disabled adult workers Paid Social Security taxes
SSI Disabled, blind, or aged individuals with limited income/resources Strict income and asset limitations

Program Specifics

While both SSDI and SSI provide financial support to individuals with disabilities, the specifics of each program differ notably. SSDI benefits can be received by disabled workers of any age and depend on the individual's earnings record. Additionally, SSDI recipients are eligible for Medicare two years after the first month they are eligible for SSDI benefits.

SSI benefits, however, are not based on prior work or a beneficiary's record of paying Social Security taxes. Instead, the benefits are financed through general tax revenues. SSI recipients also typically qualify for Medicaid without a waiting period, which can provide crucial assistance for low-income individuals with health care needs.

In both SSDI and SSI cases, the amount of monthly benefits varies depending on several factors, including the individual's earnings record (for SSDI) or the federal benefit rate and state supplements (for SSI).

Understanding these programs and their specific qualification criteria is crucial when determining eligibility for disability benefits for mental health disorders.

Disability Benefits in Canada

While understanding mental health disorders that qualify for disability in the US is important, it's also beneficial to consider how other countries handle this issue. For instance, in Canada, mental health disorders are evaluated and treated similarly to physical ones when it comes to disability benefits.

Mental Illness in Canada

In Canada, mental illness is considered a disability, allowing Canadians to qualify for benefits similar to those with physical ailments like fibromyalgia, ALS, epilepsy, and cancer, if it impacts their ability to work [3]. Mental illness disability benefits play a critical role in Canada's healthcare system for individuals unable to work due to mental health conditions.

Interestingly, Sunlife, one of Canada's largest insurance companies, reported that mental health claims make up 30% of all disability claims and 45% of total claims costs, with depression being the number one reason for a claim year-over-year [3].

Furthermore, over 17% of reported illnesses or injuries for Canadian Employment Insurance are for stress/anxiety/mental health issues, making it the second most reported reason above injury, surgery, and disease. Additionally, 30% or more of Canada's disability claims are related to mental illness [3].

Benefits and Coverage

Mental health disability benefits in Canada are designed to provide financial assistance to individuals who are unable to work due to a mental health condition. The benefits are intended to cover living expenses, medical treatment costs, and other related expenses.

However, not all claims for mental health disability benefits are approved. Data is lacking on the number of denied mental illness disability claims in Canada each year; however, there are numerous reasons for denial including lack of documentation, specific program requirements, or unique circumstances [3].

Understanding the landscape of mental health disability benefits in Canada underscores the global commitment to acknowledging and supporting those with mental health disorders. This serves as a perspective that can contribute to the ongoing discussions and policies surrounding mental health and disability in the United States.

Assessing Functional Impairment

When considering what mental health disorders qualify for disability, an essential aspect is assessing functional impairment. This process involves evaluating the effect of the mental disorder on the individual's ability to function in daily life, including activities such as work, social interactions, and self-care.

Global Assessment of Functioning

The Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) is a tool often used to measure the severity of mental illness. It assigns a score to the individual's overall level of functioning, with a lower score indicating more severe impairment. According to CAMH, individuals experiencing total disability due to mental illness typically have a GAF score of 50 or lower.

Another useful tool is the WHO Disability Assessment Schedule 2.0 (WHODAS), which specifically assesses functional impairment due to mental conditions.

These tools provide a standardized way to evaluate the impact of mental health disorders on an individual's daily life and determine if they qualify for disability benefits.

Functional History-Taking

Functional history-taking is another critical part of the assessment process. It involves inquiring about various aspects of the individual's daily life to understand how their mental health disorder impacts their functioning. Areas of inquiry may include self-care, home activities, social life, family interactions, work-related challenges, and other daily aspects [4].

For example, a diagnosis of major depressive disorder may manifest in symptoms like irritability, sadness, anxiety, lack of pleasure in activities, and suicidal ideation. The disorder might also cause functional impairments such as poor concentration, low engagement, increased errors, and neglect of home and work duties.

Understanding the nature of the patient's work and assessing their daily activities, hobbies, social life, and relationships can provide valuable insight into the extent of their functional impairment. This information is crucial in determining if the individual's duties cannot be modified to accommodate the impairment, which would indicate total disability.

Assessing functional impairment is a critical step in determining eligibility for disability benefits due to mental health disorders. Both the GAF and functional history-taking provide valuable information about the individual's ability to function in daily life, which is key in deciding if they qualify for disability benefits.


[1]: https://www.mhamd.org/information-and-help/paying-for-care/applying-for-disability-benefits-with-a-mental-illness/

[2]: https://soarworks.samhsa.gov/article/medical-information-and-ssa-disability-criteria

[3]: https://www.firstsession.com/resources/mental-illness-disability-benefits-canada

[4]: https://www.camh.ca/en/professionals/treating-conditions-and-disorders/disability-and-insurance-claims-in-primary-care/disability-and-insurance-claims-in-primary-care---documenting-a-diagnosis