Social Security Disability and SSI for Depression

Learn about your options for getting Social Security disability benefits based on depression

American doctor with depressed woman patient
American doctor with depressed  patient

To qualify for disability benefits, an individual with depression must either meet certain specific disability criteria (found in Social Security’s impairment listing manual), or be granted a medical-vocational allowance based on the severity of their depression and a combination of other factors (such as other impairments, work history, age, and a level of education).

Social Security publishes a list of common, serious illnesses (“Listings”) that qualify for disability if they meet the specified criteria. The purpose of the list is to grant disability quickly for severe impairments. Depression is covered in impairment listing 12.04 Depressive, Bipolar and related disorders. To qualify for either Social Security disability or SSI disability benefits solely on the basis of depression, you must show you have severe depression by having at least five of the following symptoms:

  • depressed mood
  • diminished interest in almost all activities
  • appetite disturbance with change in weight
  • sleep disturbance
  • observable psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • decreased energy
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • difficulty concentrating or thinking, or
  • thoughts of suicide or of death.

Bipolar disorder must be characterized by three or more of these symptoms:

  • pressured speech
  • flight of ideas
  • inflated self esteem
  • decreased need for sleep
  • distractibility
  • involvement in activities that have a high probability of personal consequences that are not recognized or
  • increase in goal-directed activities or psychomotor agitation

You will have to prove by treatment records from your therapist that these symptoms exist and that they cause serious functional limitations despite treatment for some period of time. If you regularly see a psychiatrist or psychologist, he or she should be recording your symptoms. If not, you may want to track your condition using a self-rated depression scale:


Social Security requires that your symptoms of depression cause you serious difficulties (one extreme or two marked) with:

  • understand, remember or apply information
  • interact with others
  • concentrate, persist, maintain pace, and
  • adapt or manage oneself

Affleck & Gordon are experienced attorneys who represent individuals in Social Security disability appeals. We offer a free consultation and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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