Can I get Social Security disability benefits if I’ve been diagnosed with an affective disorder?

Yes, if you suffer from an affective disorder and you can prove that you meet the eligibility criteria for Social Security disability then you may be able to recover monthly benefits.

The First Question Is Whether You Have an Affective Disorder

An affective disorder is not one specific disease. Instead, it is a term used to describe a set of psychiatric diseases that can range from mild to severe, with symptoms varying between individuals. Affective disorders are also sometimes referred to as mood disorders. There are three main types of affective disorders, including the following:

  • DepressionAlso known as major depressive disorder, this condition typically causes people to feel extreme sadness and hopelessness. Episodes can last for several days or can continue for weeks or months.
  • Bipolar disorder. This condition results in people experiencing periods of depression followed by periods of mania. Mania occurs when you feel extremely positive and active. Unfortunately, mania is not always good. Instead, it can make you feel irritable, aggressive, impulsive, and even delusional. Bipolar disorders can be further broken down into different classes of the disease according to the severity of the depression and mania, as well as how often the swing between the two moods occurs.
  • Anxiety disorders. Like bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders come in many different forms. These include social anxiety caused by social situations, post-traumatic stress disorder caused by a traumatic event, generalized anxiety disorder which does not have one particular cause, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

While anxiety is a type of affective disorder, the Social Security Administration categorizes anxiety disorders differently than depression and bipolar disorders. If you are applying for benefits then it is important to know which Social Security disability listing of impairment may be relevant to your claim.

The Next Question Is Whether You Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits Because of Your Affective Disorder

Unfortunately, when affective disorders are severe enough, it can become difficult or impossible for a person to carry out activities of daily living and to work. Social Security disability benefits may be available to provide some relief from this financial burden—if you qualify.

Just as there are different types of affective disorders, there are different ways to qualify for Social Security disability if you are diagnosed with an affective disorder. For example, you may qualify for disability benefits if:

You Meet the Requirements in the Blue Book Listing of Impairments

Affective disorders are included in Section 12.00 of the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book Listing of Impairments which covers mental disorders. You may satisfy the requirements for an affective disorder pursuant to a specific listing if one of the following is true:

  • You have depressive disorder and you meet the requirements in Section 12.04A(1). To do this, you must have medical documentation that shows that you experience five or more of the following symptoms: depressed mood, diminished interest in almost all activities, appetite disturbance with a change in your weight, sleep disturbance, observable psychomotor agitation or retardation, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or thinking, and thoughts of suicide or death.
  • You have bipolar disorder and you meet the requirements in Section 12.04A(2). To meet this requirement, you must have medical documentation that proves that you experience three or more of the following symptoms: pressured speech, flight of ideas, inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, distractibility, involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences that are not recognized, or an increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation.
  • You have anxiety disorder and you meet the requirements in Section 12.06A(1). To qualify pursuant to this listing, you must have medical documentation that proves that you have at least three of the following symptoms: restlessness, tiring easily, having difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, or sleep disturbance.
  • You have panic disorder and you meet the requirements in Section 12.06A(2). To qualify for benefits under this listing, you must have medical documentation that one of the following is true: you have panic attacks followed by a persistent concern or worry about having more panic attacks or the consequences of panic attacks, or you have a disproportionate fear or anxiety about at least two different situations.
  • You have obsessive-compulsive disorder and you meet the requirements in Section 12.06A(3). You will qualify for benefits under this listing if you have medical documentation to prove that one of the following is true: you have an involuntary, time-consuming preoccupation with intrusive, unwanted thoughts or you have repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety.

In order to qualify for benefits pursuant to any of these listings, you must also prove that one of the following is true:

  • You have an extreme limitation in one, or a marked limitation in two, of the following four areas of mental functioning: (1) understanding, remembering, or applying information; (2) interacting with others; (3) concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and (4) adapting or managing yourself.
  • Your affective disorder is serious and persistent. That means that you have a medically documented history of the disorder for a period of at least two years and there is evidence—that despite ongoing medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support, and a highly structured setting that diminishes your symptoms—you still have a minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or demands that are not part of your daily life.

These are tough requirements to meet and you may be unable to work because of your disability—even if you do not meet the technical requirements in the Listing of Impairments.

You May Qualify for Benefits Because of the Severity of Your Affective Disorder

Even if you do not meet the requirements in one of the listings described above, you may still qualify for benefits if your symptoms are equal in severity to another listing or if you are unable to work because of the significant way that your condition impacts your ability to work.

Get the Help You Need Before You Apply for Benefits

Obtaining Social Security disability benefits is important for many people suffering from affective disorders. You may need these benefits if you are unable to earn a living. Our experienced Social Security disability lawyers are here to help you through this process. We encourage you to contact us today for a free consultation and to download our free report, Unlocking the Mystery: The Essential Guide for Navigating the Social Security Disability Claims Process, to learn more.

Are You Looking for a Social Security Disability Attorney in Boston, MA?

If you are looking to apply for social security disability, you need to speak with an experienced social security disability lawyer as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Natick Office directly at 888.904.6847 to schedule your free consultation.


John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer