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How SSA Evaluates Mental Illness Disability Claims in Chicago


Individuals in Chicago and throughout the nation who struggle with disabling mental illnesses often have great difficulty seeking the disability benefits they need. Mental illness can certainly be a qualifying condition, but it is often difficult to prove to Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluators. For this reason, many applicants have their initial claims denied.

For help with your SS disability application or appeal, consider contacting an experienced attorney. Chicago lawyers with experience handling SS disability claims understand how SSA evaluates mental health conditions, and they could help you seek fair benefits.

How Does the SSA Evaluate Subjective Evidence?

The evaluation of subjective evidence is a two-step process. First, SSA looks for evidence of a medically determinable impairment that might produce the individual’s symptoms. Common examples can include depression or generalized anxiety disorder. The impairment alone is not enough to qualify someone for disability benefits, however. Because it is subjective, other factors are evaluated, including statements the individual makes about the intensity of their symptoms.

One example is someone who claims to be extremely depressed and ranks their depression as a 10 out of 10. A physician may ask them for examples of how the depression affects their everyday life. The person may not want to leave their house, speak to anyone, or be interested in activities they used to enjoy. The physician may ask whether the depression is ongoing or comes and goes.

Evaluating Longitudinal Data and Treatment History

One important consideration is how often the claimant experiences their symptoms and for how long. The Social Security Administration considers this information based on what the person says at the hearing and puts on the forms. The evaluator may also look at information from the applicant’s treatment providers.

Primary care doctors or psychiatrists usually want to know how long the individual has been experiencing depressive symptoms. Social Security looks at the longitudinal data and the individual’s treatment history to determine whether this is a new event or is ongoing. They look for information about previous treatments and their effectiveness. For example:

  • Were antidepressants prescribed in the past? Did they experience any improvement with medication?
  • Did the claimant talk with a therapist?
  • Have they tried techniques recommended by a psychologist? Were the techniques helpful?

Perhaps a psychologist talks to them about strategies they could use such as meditation or deep breathing. SSA looks at the extent to which those things help the person. Evaluating the subjective evidence is about consistency, credibility, and longitudinal data.

Job History and Work Ability

Social Security looks at the individual’s prior work record. For example, an applicant may claim the mental health impairment prohibits them from working. If the person held down a job with a single employer for several years and is no longer able to work as of the alleged onset date, it can help build credibility.

SSA also examines the individual’s daily activities and efforts to work. They determine whether the person tried to find a similar job or took less stressful work. If someone leaves a stressful job, a judge may ask if they tried working at a less stressful one. If they did attempt to find other work, that is taken into account.

Let a Chicago Social Security Disability Attorney Help with Your Application

Overall, evaluating a mental health disability claim in Chicago is about consistency, credibility, and longitudinal data. When trying to assemble an application, it can be helpful to work with an attorney who understands every step in the process and how to effectively present your case. To schedule a consultation, call today.

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