As Americans with mental illness struggle to address the financial strain caused by an inability to work, more and more are turning to the important Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program for financial assistance.

According to the Social Security Administration, more than 1.3 million people who are receiving Social Security disability benefits have been diagnosed with a mood disorder. Mental illness has become the second most common diagnostic category for beneficiaries, behind musculoskeletal system disorders and connective tissue disease.

SSDI provides benefits for those who have paid FICA taxes and no longer can work because of a long-term disability (defined as one that lasts at least 12 months or is terminal). Unfortunately, mental health issues can add layers of complexity to an already confusing process. As a Psych Central blogger wrote recently, mental health problems — or even the medications intended to treat them — can make it almost impossible to stay on top of the notoriously cumbersome claims process.

Their own illness can impede claimants’ ability to meet requirements during the disability application process. At the same time, claims related to conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar, and other mental illnesses can be more difficult to prove in part because the symptoms vary so much from person to person.

When mental illness SSDI claims are awarded, it’s because the claimant has a strong support network, a solid case supported by their doctors and extensive medical documentation, and a healthy dose of perseverance.

When it’s possible, work with your doctors and other care providers to make sure you have comprehensive documentation of your medical history, evaluations, treatments, etc. These records will be important in the application process, and can be supplemented with notes and a journal documenting the effect your condition has on your daily activities. Consider enlisting the help of family, friends or a professional representative if your condition makes it difficult to focus on this task.

As with any SSDI claim, it’s also important to create a financial plan, apply early and be persistent. The long wait for benefits can mean lost savings and even lost homes. Many individuals experience financial ruin from the repercussions of a severe disability, including lost income and accumulating health care costs. An Allsup survey of pending claimants illustrates the issues involved: Fifteen percent of claimants awaiting an SSDI decision are in or expect to be in foreclosure proceedings.

If you think you might be eligible, don’t wait to file your claim. State Disability Determination offices are swamped by claims, and the longer you wait to begin the process, the longer it will be before your claim is resolved. And don’t be discouraged by rejection. Roughly 66 percent of initial applications for SSDI benefits are denied, many based on technicalities. Those decisions can be appealed or claims refiled at a later point. Just don’t wait too long, because you may lose benefits by not appealing in a timely manner.

Keep in mind, with expert assistance at the beginning, you can have a better chance of avoiding initial rejection. No matter your condition, it’s important to document the treatment of your impairments and the way they limit your activities of daily living. Strong records and documentation over time are critical to proving your SSDI claim.

Finally, remember that the SSDI process can add to the extreme stress many people with mental health issues already find themselves facing. It’s important to seek help, whether from family, friends, a nonprofit organization or an understanding professional SSDI representative. The struggle with a mental health ailment and the financial strain it causes is daunting, but you don’t have to face it alone.