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Is mental illness really a disabling condition?

One of the cruelest remarks made about the Social Security Disability (SSDI) program in recent history was a senator's comment that "over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts."

Statements like that do a great deal of harm to the public perception of how the disability program works, who receives disability benefits and the nature of mental illness (and, quite frankly, back injuries). That kind of dismissive statement also unfairly stigmatizes the victims of mental illness and mocks their particular struggles.

Approximately one-fourth of people who receive SSDI do so primarily because of mental illness. None of them suffer from the type of normal anxiety that comes with just being stressed out or human. Instead, they suffer from true mental disorders that are disruptive to most or all areas of their lives including:

  • Anxiety (the kind that can lead to an inability to function or even leave their home, not just "nerves")
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from past exposure to physical violence
  • Severe depression, including the kind that can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions
  • Intellectual impairments, like nonverbal autism and severe processing disorders
  • Bipolar disorder, which can cause extremes of mood and abnormal behavior
  • Schizophrenia, which leaves a victim with disordered thoughts and possible hallucinations

The vast majority of people with severe mental disorders also suffer from physical ones. In many cases, their mental condition may make it very difficult for them to obtain adequate medical care.

Before anyone dismisses mental illness as the kind of anxiety that everyone experiences, it's important to remember that severe mental conditions make it difficult for people to interact with co-workers or customers, concentrate on a task or remember instructions, handle disruptions to their routine or socialize normally -- all of which are essential work skills in most occupations.

If your loved one suffers from severe mental illness or you're suffering from one yourself, find out what it takes to be approved for Social Security Disability benefits.

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