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Is Schizophrenia a Disability? Qualifying for Benefits and More

Medically reviewed by Ifeanyi Nwaka, M.D.
Posted on April 23, 2024

  • It’s not unusual to apply more than once before qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.
  • To apply, you’ll need documentation about your medical condition and symptoms of schizophrenia, along with how it affects your activities of daily living.
  • State and local community resources may offer benefits for people living with schizophrenia.

If you have schizophrenia spectrum disorder and are unable to work, you’re far from alone. Research shows that up to 90 percent of people with schizophrenia are not employed, according to a 2022 study in the journal BMC Psychiatry. Disability benefits can help cover living expenses when working isn’t an option.

Some people living with schizophrenia are employed in jobs they’ve found to be a good fit, and others request workplace accommodations to improve their success with maintaining a job. However, many more find that working just doesn’t work for them. If that’s your situation and you’d like to apply for disability insurance, here’s what you need to know.

Making Your Disability Case

The Americans With Disabilities Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The Social Security Administration acknowledges that schizophrenia is a mental disorder that may support eligibility for disability benefits.

To evaluate your case, they’ll need medical documentation detailing your diagnosis and medical history. These medical records should include key information in the following areas:

  • Test results
  • Symptoms
  • Past hospitalizations
  • Medications and their side effects
  • Your other medical treatments (including therapy)

The Social Security Administration acknowledges that schizophrenia is a mental disorder that may make people eligible for disability benefits.

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Any coexisting mental health conditions should also be noted in your disability application. Relevant information from family members, neighbors, case managers, and other third-party sources, like work or job training programs, is also required.

Proving your need for disability benefits isn’t easy, as one member of MyDepressionTeam said: “I applied for food assistance and medical stuff, and of course, they want you to provide info that you have to literally hunt down! Basically, I had to go to Narnia and back, but I have most of it now.”

The process takes time and effort to communicate with the person responsible for determining your case. You may need to provide them with additional information and answer questions as they process your application. A disability attorney or case worker to help can make applying for disability less overwhelming.

A disability attorney or case worker to help can make applying for disability less overwhelming.

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Different Types of Social Security Benefits

The two most common types of long-term disability benefits in the United States are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

SSI provides basic financial support for people who are 65 and older with blindness or a disability and a limited or no source of income. If you qualify for SSI, you’ll also usually automatically qualify for Medicaid (no-cost government health insurance) in most states.

SSDI is designed for people with disabilities who have worked in the past. It provides a higher monthly amount based on previous income. Although Medicare is usually reserved for older adults, qualifying for SSDI can automatically qualify you for Medicare after a 24-month waiting period.

Adults with disabilities can apply for SSI or SSDI online. You can also call 800-772-1213 or visit your local Social Security office to speak to someone in person. It usually takes from three to five months from the time you apply for SSI or SSDI before you hear back about the final decision.

Steps You Can Take if Your Benefits Get Denied

Getting denied Social Security disability benefits can be frustrating, especially after doing all the work to apply. Fortunately, you don’t have to start from scratch if your disability claims are denied.

You have the right to appeal, or question, the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can file an appeal online, in person, or by mail. If you plan to submit an appeal, don’t wait. You’ll need to do it within 60 days. You can request more time, but there needs to be a good reason for an extension, and you have to make the request in writing.

You can appoint a lawyer or representative to help with your appeal. The SSA can connect you with someone who is qualified to help. Sometimes these individuals charge a fee, but you should be able to get a free consultation to learn more.

Additional Benefit Programs To Consider

SSI and SSDI are a good first step, but they may not cover all your expenses. Applying for extra help with the cost of food and housing can make it easier for people with schizophrenia to live independently.

Members of MyDepressionTeam have shared tips for finding assistance with health care costs and medication. “Many states have state pharmaceutical assistance programs that help people pay for prescriptions based on financial need. Check with your state health insurance assistance program,” suggested one member. These resources are also known by their acronyms, SPAP and SHIP.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a state-funded benefit for people with disabilities and limited income. You’ll need to contact your local state agency to apply. If approved, you can use SNAP benefits to buy food. You’ll get a debit card with funds you can spend at the grocery store.

Adults with low income and chronic mental illness may also be eligible for housing assistance from the government. The Section 811 program works with developers to build affordable housing and offers rental assistance for those who qualify. These programs are meant for people with very low income levels and a disability.

Adults with low income and chronic mental illness may also be eligible for housing assistance from the government.

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You can find out what other benefit programs you may be eligible for by using the Benefit Finder tool. In addition to federal and state government agencies, several nonprofit groups, religious organizations, and community programs are available. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can help connect you with support and resources in your community. Call the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-6264 or email them at info@nami.org for more information.

Stories From MyDepressionTeam Members

Members of MyDepressionTeam have shared stories of applying for disability with conditions like depression and schizophrenia. Many report applying more than once before qualifying to receive benefits.

One member described the process as being “like a full-time job when I could hardly function.” They said, “After over a year, I finally was approved for my disability benefits. It is a long, hard process, but necessary to care for ourselves. I reached out to a therapist who helped me hold myself together to get through the process. I finally learned to use the resources that were available to me.”

Although you can apply by yourself, it’s important to have support throughout the process. Ask your psychiatrist to connect you with a disability lawyer, social worker, or community resource for help submitting your application.

Find Your Team

MyDepressionTeam is the social network for people with depression and other related mental health disorders. On MyDepressionTeam, more than 146,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with depression or schizophrenia.

Do you have experience completing a disability application for social security benefits? If so, what was the application process like for you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on April 23, 2024
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Ifeanyi Nwaka, M.D. earned his medical degree from the American University of Antigua College of Medicine. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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