“Disability” is a broad term, and it can apply to a variety of physical and mental disorders, including major depressive disorder (also known as clinical depression). Different organizations — legal, medical, and social — have different definitions for “disability.” Some criteria can affect your day-to-day life, including where you’re eligible for disability benefits.
If you’re an American living with depression, here are five things you should know about legal protections, disability benefits, and accommodations at work.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an American civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in day-to-day life. Under the ADA, “A person with a disability is someone who:
Because the ADA is a law, rather than a benefits program, you don’t have to complete any paperwork to be considered disabled. This means that if you fall into one of the above categories, you’re automatically protected against discrimination as an employee in the workplace, a business customer, or a participant in government programs.
“Being discriminated against at work sucks,” wrote one MyDepressionTeam member. “I have been in that situation,” another member responded.
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), a person may be eligible for disability benefits if they’re unable to work due to “a severe medical condition that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or result in death.”
The condition must also prevent them from doing the kind of work they did before and from adapting to new types of work.
It’s possible to get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for depression, but you’ll need comprehensive documentation about your work history and medical status. You’ll have to show that you have severe depression that interferes in your daily activities.
MyDepressionTeam members have had a variety of experiences when it comes to filing for disability benefits.
Applying for and appealing Social Security disability benefits can be a tedious and stressful process, but you’re not alone in your experience.
Applying for disability benefits is a multistep process, and it can take some time. To maximize your chances of the process flowing smoothly, be aware of the basics when it comes to Social Security benefits.
If you are applying for disability benefits for depression, your medical documentation must show that you meet five or more of these criteria:
You can apply for disability benefits online, over the phone, or in person. The steps, generally, are as follows:
If your application is denied, you can appeal the decision. You must file your appeal within 60 days of receiving your decision.
Navigating the mental health care system can be confusing. However, if you are trying to qualify for disability benefits, it is extremely important that you have an official diagnosis and a health care provider who can be contacted to support your disability claim.
If you’re being considered for disability insurance, SSA will want detailed information about your medical condition. This includes names, addresses, phone numbers, and dates of treatment for any doctors you’ve seen and hospitals or clinics you’ve been to.
They’ll also need documentation naming the medicines you take (such as antidepressants), the dose you take, and the name of the prescribing doctor. Lastly, you will need medical records of each test you have had and the name of the doctor who ordered them.
Americans with disabilities are protected against discrimination in the workplace, and they’re not required to disclose their diagnosis at any point during or after the hiring process. In most cases, the only time you’d need to let your employer know about your condition is if you’re requesting work accommodations.
A person diagnosed with depression may request accommodations such as an altered work schedule (e.g., to allow time during the week for therapy appointments) or a different method of receiving guidance from a manager (e.g., in writing instead of orally).
Any medical information you share as part of your accommodation request is confidential, meaning your employer cannot share it with other people in your workplace.
Learn how to manage work when you’re living with depression.
Whether or not your depression qualifies as a disability based on the ADA or SSA definition, your symptoms of depression can make having a rich social life difficult. You may have experienced a loss of interest in your usual activities and the relationships in your life. This is not your fault.
Mental health conditions, just like physical disabilities, should be met with understanding from the people around you, like friends and family members. Clinical depression and depressive episodes can interfere both minimally and drastically in your daily life.
It’s important to have people in your life who understand what you’re going through and can make you feel supported. One member of MyDepressionTeam described the support they get on this site: “I really like this site. It's great to be able to talk to people that know exactly what you’re going through. I don't get that at home sometimes. I know my husband tries, but sometimes it's too much for him.”
Talk with your medical team about what resources are available to you. They can connect you to treatment, support groups, and social services that can help you live your life to the fullest.
If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, call 988. You can also reach the confidential crisis text line by texting 741741.
On MyDepressionTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with depression, more than 143,000 members talk about a range of personal experiences and struggles.
Have you filed for disability benefits or asked for work accommodations for your depression diagnosis? Do you have any tips for others? Comment below to share your thoughts, or start a conversation in your Activity feed.