How to Apply for Disability Benefits for Mental Disorders

Sometimes people just need a little help. If you can prove that you have a disability that prevents you from working, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Social Security Income (SSI).

Types of Benefits

SSDI is a benefit which offers monthly payments that requires you to have had a steady work history over the past decade. You must have a disability and submit an application to the Social Security Administration (SSA). You must also currently be able to earn no more than $1,170 per month, and your condition must prevent you from working for a year–either the past year, or the foreseeable future. SSDI needs you to have earned 40 “work credits,” where you earn and pay taxes on a minimum of $1,260 per month. You can gather up to four work credits per year. Twenty of them must be earned in the decade before the disability was diagnosed. Younger claimants may qualify based on their parents’ work history.

SSI, on the other hand, is a needs-based program. To qualify, you may not own more than $2,000 in assets excluding your home and one vehicle worth $4,500 or less. If you’re married, you may own up to $3,000 in assets. Your income must be below a certain threshold depending on where you live.

papers
Credit to flickr.com user Jason Truscott. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Which Disabilities Are Accepted

The SSA publishes a “Blue Book” which describes the criteria required for disabilities to be accepted for benefits. Bipolar disorder and other mood disorders are part of this Blue Book, as well as schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and intellectual disabilities, like autism. Unfortunately, illnesses like bipolar disorder or depression need a great deal of evidence to demonstrate that your condition impairs your ability to work, even after treatment.

Application Process

The process to apply for these benefits for a mental disorder is not that much different from applying for a physical disability. Your best bet in submitting an application is to visit your local SSA office. There, you can talk to a representative who will help you fill out the forms. If you’re not comfortable with talking to the representatives in person, you can call them. They will fill out the forms for you and send a medical release form for you to sign, along with a postage-paid envelope. They will also let you know what documents you need to send them in order to prove your disability, like medical records from up to a year before your disability diagnosis.

Medical Records

The SSA is obligated to help you find and submit all of your medical records, though if you submit them yourself, your case will be delayed less. List all of your treatment team and where they work on your application form, from counselors to psychiatrists. The SSA will have you sign an Authorization to Disclose Information (SSA-827) to obtain the required records from your providers. Your medical records should contain the results of any tests–like IQ tests in the case of intellectual disabilities–as well as treatment notes. Your doctor can also fill out an optional mental residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment form, which is the best thing you can do for your case, as it demonstrates your doctor’s opinion on whether or not you can function.

It is very important to provide evidence towards your disability, like diagnoses, treatment plans, prognoses, every medication tried, and how you responded to medication. In the best case scenario, your treatment notes will include details on how your disability impedes your ability to work.

ADLs

The representative will also have you fill out a survey about your “activities of daily living,” or ADL. The Function Report form (SSA-3373) makes you describe how your disorder impairs your daily life, including during social engagements, housework, shopping, transportation, and how you spend money. If you have trouble working with coworkers or following instructions, then you need to talk about that in your ADL.

Managing Expectations

Try not to get your hopes up that your initial claim will be approved. Over 60% of claims are denied at first, and over 80% of appeals are denied. That’s not to say you shouldn’t appeal! You definitely should. You may consider hiring a Social Security Disability lawyer to help you fill out your forms and represent you in your hearing with an Administrative Law Judge.

You can be disqualified from receiving benefits by not following your doctor’s treatment plan. It’s very important to take your medication and attend your talk therapy appointments during your application process.

Applying for disability benefits can be a daunting procedure, but it can be done. It takes effort and patience and communication with your treatment team. Make sure that you jump in feet first.

Bipolar? You Can Survive This Holiday Season, part II

This is part two of a two-part series.
Part I | Part II

In the first post in this series, I covered a little bit about how to survive the holiday series when you’re manic. To recap: avoid alcohol, don’t take on too many projects, and try to relax. Now we’ll take a look at…

What to Do if You’re Depressed

Take care of yourself. That’s the core of all the advice I can give on this topic, but it’s the hardest to follow when you’re drowning. But amidst all this merriment, the temptation to give in to your loneliness and hide away from the world will be powerful indeed.

So if you’re invited to parties, prepare to go to at least one. Eat one of your favorite foods beforehand. Shower. Drink a glass of water. Once there, avoid alcohol, especially if you’re on medications. If you’re intimidated, play with your kids until they wear you out. Then talk to the adults.

They’ll probably ask you about mundane things, like your work or your kids or your hobbies. They might comment about how they haven’t seen you much, or even inquire about that project you were so passionate about before.

Credited to flickr user sluzzelîn.  Used with permission.
Credited to flickr user sluzzelîn. Used with permission.

This kind of small talk is normal. It’s what we’re all trained to ask about. They’re not judging you for abandoning projects or even picking up on any guilt you may have about not being a “good enough” parent. They may not even realize that you’re forcing yourself to stand there.

So keep your answers brief and to the point:
“Yeah, I’ve been a bit out of it lately. How are you?”
“Sue turned five this year. They grow up so fast, don’t they? How are your kids doing?”

If you’re overwhelmed, bow out of these conversations. Or don’t; you can apologize later. Just get away. It’s okay to run. Find a corner of the house which you can designate as your own and hide there for ten minutes. Breathe. Then come out again, and have a glass of water before meeting anyone else.

If you’re spending this holiday season alone, I’m so sorry. Some options for you may include attending a local church service or atheistic/agnostic gathering. Cities frequently host free holiday events. If you have the time, volunteer at a food bank or animal shelter, or kick your feet up at home and play games. Eat comfort foods. And if you can afford a road trip, go!

Above all, do not let yourself remain isolated. Feeling alone in a crowd might be easier than being alone in a bedroom. Please keep in mind that while everyone may look joyous on the outside, it’s a seasonal thing. Like the flu. The New Year’s hangover will come soon enough.

How do stay afloat during the holidays?

How to Work Out with a 40-pound Parasite Clinging to Your Leg

Or, to be more politically correct, “How to Exercise with Kids.”

As we’ve discussed in our previous post, exercise is one of the best activities you can do for your body and mind–especially if you have a mood disorder.  But parents often lack the time to tend to themselves. Between shuttling their children off to school, cleaning up potty-training accidents, and managing their own health care, exercise easily slips through the cracks of life.

However, like shredded zucchini hidden in a brownie, you can sneak in a workout while your kids play.  Here are some ideas:

If you have five minutes: Dance with your toddlers or play the game of, “catch me, catch me!” While pushing your kid in a swing, do some quick squats. Throw a ball and try to get to it before your playmates.  You can also get a good grip on their bodies and use them as curling weights.

If you have the strength, lie down on the floor and have your kid attach himself to your legs while you hold onto his arms. Lift your legs slowly, hold for a few seconds, drop quickly—and then repeat. These have never failed to produce shrieks of laughter from my son, Ryan.

If you have ten minutes: Strap weights to your wrists and ankles, or carry two gallons of milk. Pump your arms and lift your knees when you walk around the block or jog in place. After ten minutes, take them off.  Try again for another ten minutes, later.

If you have older kids or teenagers, play soccer or a sport of their choice. Get your heart rate up as much as you can.

If you have thirty minutes: If your kids still nap, try to squeeze in some exercise along with everything else you do during that “free” time. Hustle when you do chores or gardening. In addition to powerwalking between errands or running up and down stairs, you may be able to devote some time to a short yoga or aerobics video.

You can also purchase a jogging stroller, but watch out—these are inordinately expensive. But, as useful as the $20 umbrella strollers are for navigating through airports, they won’t cut it for intense exercises like running.

If you have an hour: Wow, lucky you! If you’re in this position, swimming is a great low-impact exercise, but if you’re looking to really sweat and can afford it, try a dance class or possibly martial arts. I’d highly recommend finding a suitable YMCA—with childcare available. Even if you never plan to use it, knowing that someone can watch your children during your workout in case your other arrangements fall apart is a relief.

Don’t be discouraged if you have physical disabilities! There are many braces, props, and specialized classes available to assist you. Yoga classes are especially accommodating. Swimming is easiest on the joints and can serve as a wonderful substitute for those who cannot lift weights. Team sports such as baseball leagues for the blind and basketball for persons in wheelchairs burn calories while building camaraderie, but there are solo sports like skiing available as well.

Best of luck in pursuing the best workout for you!

Not meant to take the place of a treatment plan created with licensed professionals.