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Common Disabilities > Depression and Social Security Disability

Depression and Social Security Disability


The following is an explanation of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) five-step process to determine if depression qualifies for SSDI.

STEP ONE simply determines if an individual is "working (engaging in substantial gainful activity)" according to the SSA definition. Earning more than $830 a month as an employee is enough to be disqualified from receiving Social Security disability benefits.

STEP TWO implies that the depression disability must be severe enough to significantly limit one’s ability to perform basic work activities needed to do most jobs. For example, the SSA must be able to determine that some or all of the activities below have been compromised as a result of the disability:

  • walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying or handling;
  • seeing, hearing or speaking;
  • understanding/carrying out and remembering simple instructions;
  • use of judgment;
  • responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations;
  • dealing with changes in a routine work setting.


STEP THREE asks if the depression disability meets or equals a medical listing. Depression is listed under mental disorders. To satisfy the listing criteria for depression a number of variables are considered, including anhedonia, appetite disturbance, sleep disturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or thinking, thoughts of suicide and hallucinations, delusions or paranoid thinking.


In assessing depression relative to a listing level impairment, the following areas of functioning are evaluated, including restrictions of activities of daily living, maintaining social functioning, deficiencies of concentration, persistence or pace, repeated episodes of decompensation--each of extended duration.


An individual who has four symptoms present from the depressive syndrome list, as well as extreme limitation two of the four functional areas, would probably be eligible for benefits.

STEP FOUR explores the ability of an individual to perform work done in the past despite the depression disability. If the SSA finds that a person can do his past work, benefits are denied. If the person cannot, then the Process proceeds to the fifth and final step.

STEP FIVE looks at age, education, work experience and physical/mental condition to determine what other work, if any, the person can perform. To determine depression disability, the SSA enlists vocational rules, which vary according to age. For example, if a person with depression would warrant a finding of disabled at any age. The inability to meet any of the basic mental demands of work would entitle a claimant to disability benefits.

Social Security Rulings 85-15 and SSR 96-9p both describe how an individual must, on a sustained basis, be able to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions; make simple work-related decisions; respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, usual work situations and to deal with changes in a routine work setting.

A substantial loss of ability to meet any one of these basic work related activities would severely limit the potential occupational base for all age groups and justify a finding of disabled. A person who has a medically determinable severe impairment of depression and is unable to unable to understand, remember or carry out simple instructions would be found disabled based on his/her mental residual function capacity.

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