Millions of people suffer from a mental illness of some type. If left untreated, serious mental health conditions are life-threatening and can affect whole families.
For the last 65 years, May has been Mental Health Awareness Month. As the month comes to a close, many psychologists, social workers and people suffering from a mental illness can celebrate the strides in treatment and social awareness regarding mental illness. Still, there is a long way to go.
Too often people with mental illness feel as though their condition is a personal or moral failing, rather than an illness with an underlying physical cause. People with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder too often feel as though they need to “tough it out” or are bad or lazy people. The Mayo Clinic recently issued several recommendations for people suffering from mental illness that may help overcome these feelings. The Mayo suggests:
· Getting help. Treatment can reduce symptoms and identify the underlying issues.
· Not feeling shame. Illnesses of all type can strike at anyone. Acknowledging a mental health condition can help overcome low self-esteem and destructive thinking.
· Not isolating. Speaking to trusted friends and relatives can help. People with mental illness often feel alone. They are not.
· Remembering that an illness can improve. While mental illnesses can feel overwhelming, a person is more than a mental illness, and things can improve.
Mental illness and SSDI
Social Security Disability insurance is a federal program that helps people who are unable to work because of a disabling condition. The Social Security Administration recognizes several mental illnesses as disabling. However, in practice it can be more difficult to obtain SSDI because of a disabling mental condition than other medical conditions. The symptoms of a mental illness are not always readily apparent. Nonetheless, the SSA recognizes the following mental conditions, among others, as potentially qualifying for SSDI:
· Bipolar disorder
· Alzheimer’s and dementia
· Substance abuse disorders
In order to qualify for SSDI, an applicant must prove that he or she is unable to work beyond the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level for one year or more. The amount of earnings the SSA considers “substantial” depends on the disability.
The SSA will also require evidence of a mental illness. For depression, for example, a person must demonstrate severe symptoms, such as delusions or “marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning.” For substance abuse, the addiction must have physically impaired a person’s health or caused brain damage to the extent that working is impossible.
Not all people with severe mental illness exhibit obvious signs, however. A person with bipolar disorder may feel and act fine for days, then experience several days in a row where it is nearly impossible to get out of bed. For such conditions, thorough and organized medical documentation is necessary in order to get approved for SSDI benefits.
The first priority for people suffering from a mental illness is to get medical help immediately. People who have a mental illness and who are unable to work should also contact an experienced Social Security Disability to discuss their legal options and help with daily living expenses.