When you live with depression, it can impact how you function in the world. Sometimes, this may qualify you for disability support.
Depression is a mood disorder that goes beyond feelings of sadness. Living with depression can mean your basic functions – like sleeping, remembering something, and eating – are disrupted. Does this mean it’s a disability?
There’s no absolute answer to this question because it depends. Depression can be as impairing as other conditions with more physical symptoms, but not everyone experiences it in the same way.
In many cases, though, depression is considered a disability under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Yes. Clinical depression is sometimes considered a disability under the ADA, although not everyone living with the condition qualifies for this protection.
Depression can also be claimed as a disability under the SSA, but only if you meet specific criteria.
ADA versus SSA
Disability coverage under the ADA is not the same as under Social Security programs.
The ADA ensures you certain rights in the workplace if you live with a disability like depression. You’re granted protection from harassment and discrimination, for example.
Under the ADA, you also have a right to privacy and reasonable accommodations that might balance out the challenges of working with a disability.
The SSA, on the other hand, offers you financial assistance if living with a disability prevents you from working to earn an income.
The ADA defines a disability as one or more of the following:
- a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual
- a history or record of mental or physical impairment
- being regarded as having such an impairment, real or perceived, that has subjected you to actions prohibited by ADA law
The ADA doesn’t maintain a complete list of conditions it considers disabilities. It does, however, have specific examples of qualifying conditions noted in its Psychiatric Enforcement Guidance document.
For depression, this list includes only major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression.
Other conditions that may occur alongside or involve symptoms of depression are listed, such as:
- bipolar disorder
- anxiety disorders (specifically panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder)
- personality disorders
If you live with a mental health impairment that impacts daily life but isn’t on the list, you might still be eligible for ADA protections.
The Social Security Administration offers two benefit programs:
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
These benefit programs provide monthly income supplementation if you live with depression as a disability and have income and resources below specific financial limits.
The primary path to disability benefits is through SSDI, but you must meet certain requirements to qualify.
First, you must be able to provide medical documentation of a formal diagnosis with 5 or more of the following symptoms:
- depressed mood
- appetite disturbance with a change in weight
- diminished interest in leisure or joyful activities
- observable psychomotor agitation or retardation
- decreased energy levels and fatigue
- sleep disturbances
- difficulty concentrating on tasks
- feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness
- thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or death
An additional criterion is to present extreme limitation of one, or notable limitation of two areas of mental functioning, including:
- interacting with others
- understanding, remembering, or applying information
- concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace
- adapting or managing yourself
If you don’t meet any of these last criteria, you may then provide proof that your impairment is “serious and persistent,” with a documented history of at least 2 years living with the symptoms.
Also, you can provide evidence that:
- you have received ongoing treatment that provides a certain degree of relief
- you’re not readily able to adapt to new changes in your daily routine or environment
SSDI lays the foundation for disability benefits, but you may also apply for benefits from the SSI program.
Depression is considered a disability when it prevents you from engaging or completing daily activities and tasks.
These types of depression may qualify you for a disability claim if you meet specific requirements:
- clinical depression
- persistent depressive disorder
- postpartum depression
- depression with episodes of psychosis
The severity of depression symptoms, not the type of depression you live with, determines if you can claim the diagnosis as a disability.
If you experience depressive episodes while living with bipolar disorder, you may also be eligible for some benefits. This coverage, however, will likely be under the requirements laid out for bipolar disorder, not depression.
You don’t have to apply for coverage. If you live with a disability as defined by the ADA, you’re already protected. No action is required on your part.
If you feel you’ve experienced discrimination or unfair treatment at work due to your disability, you can file a civil rights complaint with the Department of Justice.
You can use the online form provided or choose to mail or fax your form.
The form will ask you to:
- give your contact information
- describe your primary concern
- identify the location
- describe personal characteristics
- list the date or dates of the event
- give a personal description
- review your form before submission
After your complaint is received, it’ll go into the review process, which may take several months. You can check the status of your complaint at any time by calling the ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or (TTY 800-514-0383).
To be eligible for SSDI, you must first have paid into Social Security through a past job long enough to accrue credits.
Credit requirements for benefits change annually. As of 2021, you need an average of 40 credits to receive SSDI disability benefits for depression.
You can earn only 4 credits every year. Most people may need to work an average of 10 years at a job paying into Social Security to apply for SSDI.
SSI has less demanding requirements because it’s designed to help you meet basic income needs for clothing, food, or housing.
To qualify for SSI, you must:
- live with a disability or be at least age 65
- have limited income
- have limited resources (things you own)
- be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or qualified noncitizen
- reside in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands
Steps to apply for SSA benefits
You can apply for depression disability benefits online, in person at your local office, or on the phone: (800-772-1213).
Step one: Gather your information
To apply, you may need the following information:
- birth dates, Social Security numbers, marriage status of you and people in your household
- financial institution information
- healthcare team information to verify diagnosis
- detailed information about the disability you live with and treatments you’ve undergone
- name, address, and employment information for up to five previous jobs
- information on benefits you’ve received
- legal documents such as birth certificate, military ID, W-2 forms, benefit certificates
Step two: The application
Complete and submit your application.
Step three: The review
After you submit your application, it will go to the SSA for review to ensure you meet the basic disability requirements.
Part of the review process will be looking at your work history to verify you qualify for SSDI benefits or have current work activities.
Step four: Application processed
If your application is approved, it will be forwarded to the Disability Determination Services office in your state. This is the office that will make the final decision regarding your benefits.
Step five: Notification
Approval or denial of disability benefits for depression will come by mail.
You can check the status of your application through your online account or by calling 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778).
If your application is denied, you can initiate an appeals process to be reconsidered.
The benefits program that works best for you will depend on your symptoms of depression and your current financial needs.
The SSI program is there to help you if your income isn’t enough to meet necessities. It’s a monthly payment program determined by your current income and assets.
There’s no set amount of help you may receive on SSI. If your state offers similar disability programs, you may receive less money from federal aid.
Most adults under the age of 65 who qualify for SSI have resources that total less than $2,000.
SSDI benefits are payments available if depression prevents you from working. To receive SSDI, your disability must be expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.
You can’t receive SSDI benefits for a short-term disability or a partial disability. If you live with seasonal affective disorder, for example, you may not meet the long-term requirements of diagnosis.
You must also be younger than your full retirement age when you apply.
In some cases, your family members may be eligible for SSDI payments while you live with a depression disability.
SSDI is a calculated number based on your employment history. In 2021, the average payment was approximately $1,200 monthly.
It’s not uncommon to receive a rejection letter from SSDI. This is likely due to some details needed in your application. However, you can re-apply as many times as needed until you get approved.
If living with depression has impaired your ability to work, you may be eligible for disability benefits.
To learn more and prepare your Social Security application, these resources are available:
- local mental healthcare professionals able to diagnose depression: SAMHSA National Hotline: 800-662-4357
- online Social Security account set-up page
- Social Security disability programs informational phone line: 800-772-1213
- apply for disability benefits online
- find a Social Security office near you
To learn more about your rights under the ADA or to file a complaint about disability discrimination, these resources are available: