Disability benefits for mental conditions: mood disorders

The term “mood disorder” has been widely discussed in connection with Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. lately. For readers in Oregon and elsewhere who haven’t been following that story, Jackson’s absence from his congressional seat recently prompted questions and a subsequent acknowledgement that the congressman has been diagnosed with a mood disorder and is currently receiving treatment.

While we don’t know what type of mood disorder Jackson has been diagnosed with or how severe the condition is — the story itself provides an opportunity to briefly discuss what mood disorders are and whether a person who has been diagnosed with one can qualify for Social Security Disability benefits on that basis.

What exactly is a mood disorder? The phrase “mood disorder” is really an umbrella term that encompasses different types of mental disorders (bipolar disorder, for example) — all of which are medically-recognized as illnesses. Far and away the most common of these disorders is depression, which is usually the illness people are referring to when they use the generic term “mood disorder.”


How common is depression? Current estimates suggest that between 20 percent (1 in five) and 40 percent (2 in 5) on the planet will experience a major episode of depression at some point in their lives. Fortunately, most people are able to recover from those episodes with professional help and the support of family and friends. For some, however, the disease can be completely debilitating.

So, can you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits if you have a mood disorder such as depression? Yes, provided you have a medical diagnosis and can provide supporting evidence sufficient to establish that the condition will prevent you from working for at least one year. Lastly, we should also note that less severe mood disorders can help you obtain disability benefits if you have a combination of impairments that satisfy the same criteria.

Source: CNN, “What do we know about mood disorders?” Charles Raison, July 13, 2012

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