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Are serious mental conditions considered a disability?

People often think of disabilities as something physical. A worker injures their back on the job, loses feeling in their legs and can never walk again. Another worker suffers an amputation injury and the damage is so severe that doctors cannot save the limb. These types of serious injuries may make it necessary for people to seek out Social Security Disability benefits.

But what about mental disorders? Clearly, they can make it just as difficult -- or impossible -- to work. They can change your life. Many of them can never be cured, even if you can treat them. Can you seek benefits on those grounds?

The recognized categories

In many cases, you can. In fact, per the Social Security Administration, the following categories get special recognition:

  • Stressor- and trauma-related disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Personality and impulse-control disorders
  • Somatic symptoms and related disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders and anxiety disorders
  • Intellectual disorders
  • Bipolar, depressive and related disorders
  • Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia spectrum
  • Neurocognitive disorders

Mental disorders are complex and can get broken down much farther by trained medical professionals. But these are the general categories that the SSA recognizes, and they give you a very good place to begin.

On top of that, it's important to note that these situations can be different from one person to the next. Someone with an eating disorder may need hospitalization when they become too weak, but they could recover in time and become able to work again. Someone with Autism spectrum disorder may function at a high level, though they will never cure the disorder entirely. Meanwhile, a person with schizophrenia may never work again, especially if the disorder itself makes them believe that they do not need the medication used to treat it.

The process

Every case is unique. Every person is unique. That is why the process can become rather long and involved. The SSA needs to see how severe the case is, what medical proof the person has of their disorder -- it may be harder for an outsider to recognize than a physical injury -- and what prospects they have to join the workforce. There are many factors to consider, and the overall level of understanding of mental disorders -- even within the medical community -- is changing all of the time.

If you find yourself looking into your options because of a disorder that keeps you from working, or if you have a loved one who falls into the categories listed above, make sure you are well aware of the steps you need to take in California.

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