Annually, millions of Americans seek Social Security disability income (or SSDI) to help cover everyday living expenses, medical costs, and other financial obligations. To qualify for SSDI, an applicant must satisfy various requirements and submit proof of meeting them. One requirement is that the applicant has a preexisting condition that prevents him or her from working for at least one year. Mental and psychological disorders are one such condition that satisfies this requirement. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes eleven types of mental disorders.

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Neurocognitive Disorders

A neurocognitive disorder is characterized by damage to nerve cells in the brain. Consequently, a person who has a neurocognitive disorder experiences decreased mental function. To qualify for SSDI based on a neurocognitive condition, the SSA requires medical documentation indicating a significant cognitive decline in at least one of the following functions:

  • Complex attention
  • Executive function
  • Learning and memory
  • Language
  • Percentual-motor
  • Social cognition

Types of neurocognitive disorders include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.

Schizophrenia Spectrum and Psychotic Disorders

Psychotic disorders are characterized as causing an inability to tell what is real from what is imagined. Applicants with psychotic disorders often experience confusing thoughts, sounds, and images. The SSA recognizes psychotic disorders if the applicant demonstrates:

  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Disorganized thinking or speech; or
  • Disorganized behavior

Types of psychotic disorders include schizophrenia, paraphrenia, and delusional disorder.

Depressive, Bipolar, and Related Disorders

Depressive and bipolar disorders cause extreme mood and energy swings from one moment to the next. As a result, the ability to concentrate and engage in activities is limited. The SSA requires medical proof of at least five of the following to qualify for SSDI:

  • Depressed mood
  • Diminished interest in most activities
  • Disturbance in appetite with correlated weight change
  • Impacts on sleep patterns
  • Observable psychomotor agitation
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

Manic depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder are all types of depressive disorders.

Intellectual Disorders

An intellectual disorder affects a person’s ability to engage intellectually (e.g., learning) and adaptively (e.g., communication). A claimant with an intellectual disorder may receive SSDI upon providing documentation of the following:

  • A significantly subaverage intellectual functioning ability based on standardized testing baselines
    • This is indicated by an IQ score of 70 or below
  • A significant deficit in adaptive functioning ability based on dependence needs for personal care; and
  • Evidence indicating the disorder began before turning 22

Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are all types of intellectual disorders.

Anxiety and Obsessive-compulsive Disorders

Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) cause excessive fear or worry, or intrusive thoughts and urges the individual to engage in certain actions repeatedly. The SSA characterizes anxiety disorder as a display of at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Tense muscles
  • Sleep disturbance


In contrast, the SSA characterizes OCD as a display of:

  • Involuntary, time-consuming preoccupation with unwanted thoughts; or
  • Repetitive behaviors engaged in to reduce anxiety

Anxiety disorders include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia, and panic disorder.

Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders

A somatic symptom disorder is characterized as causing extreme anxiety and preoccupation with physical symptoms a person experiences, such as pain. The SSA requires documentation of at least one of the following to qualify for SSDI based on a somatic symptom disorder:

  • Symptoms of altered motor or sensory function not otherwise explainable
  • Distressing somatic symptoms that cause excessive thoughts or behaviors
  • Preoccupation with having a serious illness despite a lack of symptoms

Types of somatic symptom disorders include hypochondriasis, body dysmorphia, and somatization disorder.

Personality and Impulse-control Disorders

Personality based and impulse-control disorders cause affected individuals to have difficulty controlling impulsive urgers, thus impacting social and occupational functioning. The SSA requires documentation of at least one of the following symptoms to qualify for SSDI:

  • Distrust of others
  • Social detachment
  • Disregard for the violation of others’ rights
  • Unstable interpersonal relationships
  • Excessive attention-seeking behavior
  • Feeling inadequate
  • An excessive need to be cared for
  • Preoccupation with perfectionism
  • Recurring, impulsive behaviors

Antisocial personality disorder, kleptomania, and pyromania are examples of personality and impulse-control disorders.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism refers to a developmental disorder that causes challenges with speech and social skills and is marked by repetitive behaviors. The SSA requires medical documentation of the following to qualify for SSDI:

  • Qualitative deficits in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication; and
  • Significant engagement in repetitive patterns of behavior or activities


Autism ranges in severity, with some experiencing mild symptoms or Asperger syndrome and others experiencing severe symptoms such as the inability to talk or do basic tasks.

Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Neurodevelopmental disorders are caused by abnormal brain development or brain damage at a young age. They cause mild to severe changes in an individual’s functioning ability. Proof of the following will qualify an applicant for SSDI:

  • Frequent distractibility or difficulty completing tasks that require attention
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Significant learning difficulties
  • Recurring motor movement or vocalization

ADHD, ASD, and cerebral palsy are all types of neurodevelopment disorders.

Eating Disorders

The SSA characterizes eating disorders as a condition causing a persistent change in eating behaviors that impact food consumption and impair the affected person’s psychological and physical health. Medical documentation of such alteration is necessary.

Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and pica.

Trauma and Stressor-related Disorders

Trauma and stressor-related disorders bring about serious psychological reactions to individuals who were exposed to a traumatic event. The SSA requires documentation of five factors to qualify for social security disability, which follows:

  • Exposure to actual or threatened death, injury, or violence
  • Involuntary and repeated experiences such as flashbacks following the event
  • Avoidance of triggers that serve as reminders of the event
  • Changes in mood and behavior; and
  • Increased reactivity

Examples of these disorders include PTSD, acute stress disorder, and reactive attachment disorder.

Proof of Mental Disorder for SSDI

For each of the listed disorders, the SSA also requires medical proof that the applicant either:

  • Have significant limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following mental functions:
    • The ability to understand, recall, or apply information
    • The ability to interact with others
    • The ability to concentrate or maintain pace


  • Have a mental disorder characterized as “serious and persistent” – meaning that:
    • A diagnosis was present for a minimum two-year period; and
    • That the applicant received medical treatment and was, at most, only minimally able to adapt to environmental changes

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