Is depression a disability? How to apply for disability benefits

last updated: Apr 26, 2022

4 min read

Clinical depression is a mental health condition that can impact your ability to function in your daily life and even keep you from working. 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, treatment-resistant depression that interferes with your ability to function is considered a psychiatric disability. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about depression as a disability, qualifying for benefits, and how to apply. 


Improve and support your health from the comfort of home

Is depression considered a disability?

Clinical depression is a mood disorder that creates persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in usual life activities. It can be considered a disability if it becomes so severe that you can’t work. Major depressive disorder is a leading cause of disability for people between 15 and 44 in the United States (ADAA, n.d.).  

Your healthcare provider may diagnose you with depression if you’re experiencing five or more of the following symptoms (Chand, 2021):

  • Loss of interest or pleasure

  • Trouble sleeping or sleep disturbances

  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

  • Energy changes and fatigue

  • Trouble focusing and difficulty concentrating

  • Appetite disturbance and weight changes

  • Depressed mood or feelings of sadness

  • Slowed movements

  • Suicidal thoughts

Types of depression

There are numerous types of mood and depressive disorders, including (Chand, 2021):

For many people, any of these types of depression can be treated with antidepressant medications, therapy, or both. But sometimes, depression can be resistant to treatment, impacting a person’s ability to work and live a normal life. In those cases, it may be considered a disability. 

Can you get disability benefits for depression?

Having treatment-resistant depression that’s persistently limiting your usual daily activities may qualify you to receive benefits. Still, having treatment-resistant depression doesn’t mean you’ll automatically receive disability benefits. 

For depression to be classified as a disability, a healthcare provider must first diagnose the person with clinical depression by verifying at least five of the symptoms of depression are present. Further, a person has to experience at least one of these other two criteria (SSA, n.d.):

  • Moderate to extreme limitations in mental functioning, such as trouble understanding or applying information; interacting with other people; concentrating; managing oneself

  • The depression is considered “serious and persistent,” with medical documentation of depression for at least two years, including evidence of attempted treatments, symptoms, and lowered ability to adapt to changes.

To qualify for assistance with depression, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that the disability substantially impacts and limits at least one area in your life. 

Types of assistance programs you may qualify for

You may qualify for assistance if you have clinical depression and cannot work. The programs you qualify for may depend on your financial situation. 

Here are some of the programs available for people with disability due to depression:

Social security disability insurance (SSDI)

Social security disability insurance (SSDI) is the first program you may qualify for if you have depression that keeps you from working. You may qualify for SSDI if you (NAMI, n.d.):

  • Have a disability or impairment that leads to you being unable to work for at least 12 months

  • Have worked and paid taxes into the Social Security program for at least five out of the last 10 years

The amount of money you qualify for directly relates to how much you paid into the FICA tax program. The average SSDI monthly benefit in 2014 was $1,165 (NAMI).

Supplemental security income (SSI)

If you qualify for SSDI, you may be able to receive additional benefits from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. To be eligible for SSI, you must meet the following requirements (NAMI):

  • Your impairments prevent you from working regularly.

  • You, and your spouse if married, must be considered low income based on where you live.

  • You have no more than $2,000 in assets and resources if single and less than $3,000 in assets if married.

This program was created to help people who are very low income receive additional benefits. The amount of money you’ll qualify for depends on multiple factors. On average, the monthly payment for SSI was $733 for individuals and $1,100 for couples (NAMI). 

Children may be eligible for SSI benefits if their family is considered very low income and the child has an impairment that causes functional limitations for at least 12 months. 

Medicare and Medicaid

Medicaid is a government program that provides low-cost health insurance to people with low income. You’re eligible for Medicaid after being eligible for SSI payments for at least one month. 

Medicare provides health insurance to people over 65 or people with a disability. If you are in the latter group, you are eligible for Medicare after you’ve been getting SSDI for two years. 

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to help protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. 

The act provides guidelines to serve and protect people with disabilities around employment, government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunication (HHS, 2006). 

The ADA covers both physical and mental impairments, including depression. 

How to apply for disability benefits

Applications for disability benefits and social security services are typically processed through a local SSA office. It’s important to apply for benefits as soon as you’re eligible because it can take six months or longer for your application to be processed and receive payments. If you’re approved, you’ll receive retroactive pay based on when you submitted your application for benefits. 

If you want, you can hire an attorney to help with filing your disability claim. Just keep in mind that a percentage of your social security benefits will be provided to the attorney as payment, with them receiving at most $6,000 (NAMI). 

The SSA could deny your applications for disability. If this happens, you can repeal the decision in court. It can take as long as two years to get a hearing to have your case reviewed. This is often when people choose to hire an attorney to help them with this process. 

Clinical depression can greatly impact your daily life, and when it interferes with your ability to work, it may be considered a disability that qualifies for benefits. If you’re unsure if you qualify or have questions about benefits, it may be helpful to talk with an attorney for help with your specific situation.  


If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

April 26, 2022

Written by

Ashley Braun, RD, MPH

Fact checked by

Steve Silvestro, MD

About the medical reviewer

Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Associate Director, Clinical Content & Education at Ro.