Can I get disability benefits for depression?


Yes, you can receive disability benefits for depression if your medical records show that your depression is severe and you are unable to work.

There are two ways to be found disabled: by meeting one of Social Security’s Listings of Impairments, or by being found vocationally disabled based on your functional capacity.

Social Security has Listings of Impairments, which is a list of illnesses, and if you suffer from one of those illnesses then you may be eligible for disability benefits. The listing that corresponds most closely to depression is Listing 12.04 for Depressive, bipolar and related disorders. Although Listing 12.04 covers depression, bipolar disorder, and related disorders, this article focuses on depression. If you meet the depression listing and Social Security determines that you are disabled, then you can receive disability benefits for depression.

Meeting the Listing for Depression

As mentioned above, if you meet the depression listing, then you can be found disabled.

Listing 12.04, states the following:

12.04 Depressive, bipolar and related disorders (see 12.00B3), satisfied by A and B, or A and C:

A. Medical documentation of the requirements of paragraph 1 or 2:

  1. Depressive disorder, characterized by five or more of the following:
    1. Depressed mood;
    2. Diminished interest in almost all activities;
    3. Appetite disturbance with change in weight;
    4. Sleep disturbance;
    5. Observable psychomotor agitation or retardation;
    6. Decreased energy;
    7. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;
    8. Difficulty concentrating or thinking; or
    9. Thoughts of death or suicide.
  2. Bipolar disorder, characterized by three or more of the following:
    1. Pressured speech;
    2. Flight of ideas;
    3. Inflated self-esteem;
    4. Decreased need for sleep;
    5. Distractibility;
    6. Involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences that are not recognized; or
    7. Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation.


B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F):

  1. Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1).
  2. Interact with others (see 12.00E2).
  3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3).
  4. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4).


C. Your mental disorder in this listing category is “serious and persistent;” that is, you have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both:

  1. Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder (see 12.00G2b); and
  2. Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life (see 12.00G2c).

The listing for depression has a set of “A”, “B” and “C” criteria. To meet the listing for depression, you must meet criteria A and B, or in the alternative, criteria A and C.

The “A” criteria are easier to prove since someone who is diagnosed with depression generally meets most of the requirements.

The “B” criteria are more difficult to prove since you must show an extreme limitation in one category or a marked limitation in two categories. “Marked” means that your illness is more than moderate but is less than extreme. Mild or moderate limitations are not enough as they are considered non-severe.

The “C” criteria can be met if your disorder is “serious and persistent.” Additionally, you need to have sought treatment for the disorder and prove that you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment. However, even if you are receiving treatment, if you are still able to work, you will not be found disabled.

Proving Disability Based on Residual Functional Capacity

Meeting a listing is not the only way to be found disabled. Another way to be found disabled is based on your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC refers to your ability to do physical and mental work activities despite your impairments.

If you are suffering from depression, Social Security will need to assess your mental RFC. Social Security’s determination of your mental RFC focuses on your understanding and memory, sustained concentration and persistence, and social interaction and adaptation. In determining your functional capacity, Social Security looks at practical aspects of how your mental conditions would affect your job performance. For example, if you would be “off task” due to your mental health symptoms more than about 15% of a work day, that would be unacceptable to most employers, and you would probably be considered disabled. Likewise, if you were absent from work once per week or more due to your mental health symptoms, then you could probably not hold a full-time job, and you could be found disabled.

If your case makes it to the hearing stage, an administrative law judge will ask a vocational expert to testify about whether there are jobs in the national economy for a hypothetical individual with your age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity. If there is no simple, unskilled job you can do, then you are eligible to receive disability benefits. For example, if you have marked difficulties in maintaining concentration or would have to miss many days of work, it would be challenging to find even a simple, unskilled job you could perform. If you also have physical impairments in addition to your depression, that further limits the type of jobs you can perform.

Proving Your Case at Hearing

The first step in receiving disability benefits is filing an initial application. If you file an application and are denied benefits, you have the right to appeal that decision by requesting a reconsideration determination. If that is not in your favor, then you may request a hearing before an administrative law judge.

If you are denied benefits, you should consider hiring a Social Security disability attorney who can assist with your case. In many cases, the medical records may not provide enough detail about how your depression is impacting your ability to work. Thus, it is helpful to have an attorney who can seek more information from your medical providers to increase your chances of approval. Additionally, an attorney can argue your case at a hearing before an administrative law judge.