Is Depression a Disability?

Shot of a young businesswoman looking stressed while using a laptop during a late night at work

LaylaBird / Getty Images

Mental health struggles can be debilitating. However, mental health issues are still health concerns, and you deserve the right to get the support you need when healing. Since mental illness can be more challenging to spot than a physical ailment, it can sometimes be hard to qualify a psychiatric condition as something that requires disability support. Don’t let that stop you from getting help if you struggle to hold a job down due to depression.

Depression Qualifies as a Disability

Depression is a condition that qualifies for disability, but there are specific details to be aware of.

Read on to learn why depression is a disability, what your rights are, how to qualify for disability benefits, and steps to take when requesting accommodations. 

How Is “Disability” Defined?

Disability

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) identifies a disability when someone is experiencing any form of impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

For example, if you’re experiencing issues with anything ranging from your immune system and bowel function to neurological and brain functions that significantly impact daily activities and functioning, that may qualify as a disability.  

However, experiencing the aforementioned impairment isn’t the only requirement for being considered disabled. Having a history of impairment can also be a factor. If you have a condition that is only crippling during episodes (something that certainly applies to depressive episodes), it can count as a disability.

Mental health impairments include disorders like major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and many personality disorders.

What Are My Rights?

First, it is essential to remember that you have rights, and they are protected under the ADA. The ADA is a law designed to protect those with disabilities against discrimination everywhere, from the workplace to transportation and access to social services programs.

When it comes to safeguarding folks in the workplace, this act focuses on protecting employees and those seeking jobs.

Due to the ADA, those experiencing conditions that impact their ability to work may receive financial compensation and reasonable work accommodations. Special work accommodations can include time allowed for therapy appointments, remote work, and a leave of absence. 

A Note About Disclosure

Another aspect of the ADA is that employers can never inquire if an employee has a disability. If you choose to disclose your disability, you can choose what you are comfortable sharing. The decision to disclose a disability is very personal and can be scary. While mental health stigma is still present, you are protected under law to support your disability as long as it doesn’t present a significant expense or hardship for the company employing you.

Different Types of Disability Benefits

There are a few types of disability benefits to consider. For starters, requesting accommodations to ensure you can fulfill your work duties is a form of benefit.

If you’re unable to work at all due to the effects of depression, your employer may offer a disability benefit, regardless. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has two programs that may be of help:

  1. Social Security Disability Insurance
  2. Supplemental Security Income

Social Security Disability Insurance

If you haven’t been able to work for at least one year and, when employed last, paid Social Security through your paycheck deductions, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

The amount of financial benefit you will receive from SSDI varies for each person and is determined based on the Social Security deductions paid when working. The amount of work you'll need to have done at a job where Social Security deductions were paid varies on the age you are when your disability begins.

To qualify for SSDI, you must have worked a job that was covered by Social Security and have a medical condition that meets Social Security's definition of disability. Social Security has a list of medical impairments that are considered severe enough to warrant someone receiving disability benefits.

What You Need to Qualify for SSDI Benefits

  • Be unable to work due to your disability for at least one year.
  • Have a medical condition that meets the Social Security's definition of disability.
  • Worked at a job where Social Security payment deductions were made.
  • The length of time required at said job is dependent upon the age you were when the disability began.

Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income helps folks experiencing a disability with very little or no money coming in. It provides cash aid to help those experiencing hardship due to disability to access food, clothing, and shelter.

Qualification for this program is contingent upon proof of low income and minimal assets. This program differs from SSDI in that you can still qualify without having paid Social Security paycheck deductions. You do not have to have a job to receive benefits—in fact, you can receive benefits even if you've never been employed.

What You Need to Qualify for SSI Benefits

  • You must be 65 or older, blind, or disabled.
  • You must have limited income and resources.
  • Have U.S. citizenship and live in any of the 50 states, District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • You cannot leave the country for a full calendar month.
  • You cannot be in a government institution, like a hospital or prison.
  • The total value of your assets must be $2,000 or less. If you're married and living together, then the total value for both of you must be $3,000.
  • You must apply for any other government benefits you're eligible for.
  • An application is required.
  • You'll need to give the Social Security Administration permission to contact any financial institution to look into your background further.

How Will I Receive My Benefits?

SSDI

If you're receiving SSDI, you are required to receive your payments electronically. You can either have them direct deposited to your bank account, or you can have them loaded onto a prepaid debit card. You have to wait five months after the date your disability began to begin receiving your SSDI payments. Even if your application is approved before that five-month period, you still will not receive payment until the sixth month of your disability .

SSI

SSI benefits are distributed in the same manner as SSDI benefits—through electronic payments to your bank account or a prepaid debit card. However, you may be able to receive your SSI payment more quickly than an SSDI payment.

You may receive your first SSI payment the month after you applied to the program. It is important to note that you may not receive the same amount every month, but you'll be told in advance if your payment amount changes. If your payment amount is changed and you disagree with the decision, you can reach out to the Social Security Administration to have them review your case again.

What If I Don't Qualify for Disability Benefits?

In some cases, you may not qualify for disability benefits. Should this be your case, it is important to know that you have other options.

  • You can appeal the Social Security Administration's decision and request a reconsideration within. This is done by visiting their website and filling out a form online. You have 60 days from receiving the initial notice of the decision to submit the appeal.
  • You can also request accommodation in the workplace. This would require you to disclose some information to your employer in exchange for them agreeing to allow you some accommodations, like changing your work schedule or taking longer breaks.

How to Request Accomodations

If you think accommodations in the workplace may be in your best interest, you will need to have a conversation with your employer.

Accomodation

An accommodation is a shift in your job duties or work environment that is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. An accommodation is warranted when it will support an employee with disabilities in performing their job duties.

Accommodations are not benefits you apply for. Rather, it is a request you will discuss directly with your employer.

Talk to Your Employer

You do not have to disclose your condition to your employer when requesting accommodation. Some employers may ask for more information, but what you share is up to your discretion. Keep in mind that an employer is not required to provide accommodation if it would cause an undue hardship to the business. For example, if the requested accommodation would impact the operations of the business or be financially burdensome, an employer does not have to offer it.

Having an honest and direct conversation with your employer is the best route to secure increased support in the workplace. Ensuring HR is involved in the conversation can also prove fruitful. Be prepared to potentially negotiate your requested accommodation, just in case your employer finds it to be a request that causes hardship to the business.

Before engaging in this conversation, write a list to help you figure out what support you might need.

Consider the Support You'll Need

To figure out which accommodations would be most helpful to you, consider where you feel your performance at work is lacking. Then, ask yourself what you feel could help enhance your performance. For example:

  • Do you struggle to arrive at work on time?
  • Do you find yourself falling behind on deadlines?
  • Would working one day from home help alleviate some stress?
  • Would more flexibility help? (e.g., working four hours in the morning, then four in the evening)
  • Can receiving work assignments earlier help you meet deadlines?

After you have an understanding of the support you'll need, you'll be able to state your points clearly to your employer. Expressing what you need may prove more valuable than waiting for your employer to develop solutions for you.

If you feel you have been unfairly denied an accommodation, consult with your HR department on your options. They may be able to help you and your employer come to a compromise.

A Word From Verywell

Eligibility for government benefits is based on your financial and employment situation. However, having an official mental health diagnosis is crucial for receiving disability benefits.

Seeking support from a licensed mental health provider can be helpful not only for receiving disability support but also for your overall mental health. They can support you in broaching the conversation of accommodations with your employer, provide any documents or proof required in applying for benefits, and help you develop a plan for your treatment along the way.

12 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Amendment of Americans With Disabilities Act Title II and Title III Regulations To Implement ADA Amendments Act of 2008. Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 155.

  2. United States Department of Labor. Americans with Disabilities Act)

  3. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Depression, PTSD, & other mental health conditions in the workplace: Your legal rights.

  4. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Title 29 Subtitle B Chapter XIV Part 1630. Regulations to implement the Equal Employment Provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  5. Social Security Administration. Disability Benefits

  6. Social Security Administration. Supplemental Security Income.

  7. Social Security Administration. Get Your Payments Electronically.

  8. Social Security Administration. Disability Benefits | You're Approved.

  9. Social Security Administration. What You Need to Know When You Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

  10. Social Security Administration. Disability Benefits | Appeal A Decision.

  11. U.S. Department of Labor. Office of Disability Employment Policy - Accommodations.

  12. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The ADA: Your Responsibilities As An Employer.

By Julia Childs Heyl
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.