How to Make Social Security Understand Your Mental Health Challenges, 4 Tips

In another article, we discovered there was/is no evidence that having a Mental Health Impairment will improve or decrease your chances of successfully achieving a disability or Social Security claim.  In this article, we wanted to explore that idea in a bit more detail.   We’re not interested in looking at the broad scope of, “are you or are you not”, more likely to find success.  Instead, we wanted to shine a light on how you can frame your current mental health challenges in a way that might be better understood by both your attorney, and hopefully…the Social Security Administration.  

Whether you are experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or any number of other mental health or behavioral health challenges, here are some tips for making your situation make sense to others.  

Write it Out

You’re probably familiar with the concept of a sleep journal.  In fact, for some mental health treatments, a sleep journal is even prescribed by therapists.  While this suggestion could take the form of a sleep journal, the concept is actually writing a journal about whatever challenge you’re having.

One of the best ways to know when and what to write is to create triggers.  Triggers are actions, that if they happen, tell you – it’s time to write something down.  They can be a feeling, like the heartburn or jitters that sometimes accompany anxiety (feel the heartburn, start writing).  Or they can be at the suggestion of someone else (you may not realize what’s going on, so having a friend, spouse, kid let you know could be helpful).

If you’re wondering what to write, keep it simple.  How do you feel?  Why do you feel that way?  When did you start feeling that way (make sure to include the date as well as time)?  And if you want to write more – that’s ok too.  The point is to start a process of documentation.  A good journal of how, when, and how long your mental health creates barriers can be a powerful piece of evidence.

And don’t worry too much about how well you write.  1) You’ll get better & 2) In this context, how you write is not as important as what you write about.

Describe the Barriers

Having a mental health diagnosis by itself will not be enough in most cases to demonstrate to the Social Security Administration that you are unable to work.  They want to know exactly why you can’t work, and that means you need to think about how to describe the way your mental health affects you every day.

Sometimes, to do this, it helps to work yourself through a day in your life.  Do you sleep well?  When you wake up do you need help to get up?  What do you do for breakfast?  Are you responsible for getting other people taken care of, how does that make you feel?  Do you shower?  How long has it been since you showered or bathed?  And so-on.

Think through your day, and like before, consider writing down everything that your diagnosis makes harder than it used to be.

Get Others to Describe the Barriers Created by your Mental Health

Most people have friends or family that can attest to the barriers (as we described above).  If they are willing, getting them to describe those barriers is helpful.  Also helpful is to use them to provide some perspective.  In and of itself, friends statements aren’t probably enough to demonstrate to the Social Security Administration that you can’t work because of your diagnosis.  But it will add additional detail to the entirety of your case, and it will help your therapist/doctor understand your life journey better.

Talk About the Last Time You…

This suggestion can easily be worked into the “keep a journal” idea.  If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I miss dancing, running, going out with friends, etc…”  then you already have the basics.  What will really help is to write these things down and use them as talking points with your Social Security attorney or doctor/therapist.  A good Social Security attorney will use these to both understand your current barriers and will help you to make the case that they are making it so you can’t work.

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