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Can Depression and Anxiety Disorders Qualify Me for Disability Benefits?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

b2ap3_thumbnail_disability-benefits-anxiety-disorder-Chicago.jpgAnxiety and depression are serious mental health disorders. In some cases they may produce symptoms so severe as to qualify a person for Social Security Disability insurance benefits. However, Social Security officials are often quick to dismiss medical evidence of mental health problems, and in some cases illegally substitute their own non-expert opinions for the views of medical professionals.

Magistrate Finds “Red Flags” in Social Security’s Rejection of Applicant With Mental Disorders

Here is a recent example from here in Illinois. A 50-year-old man applied for disability benefits. He previously worked as a custodian and manual laborer.

As part of the disability review process, a state agency doctor examined the applicant and diagnosed him with “depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.” This was more than a case of the applicant feeling sad or anxious. The agency doctor noted the applicant “had difficulty maintaining a consistent level of attention and concentration during the examination.” There was also evidence of “impaired memory.” A second agency doctor charged with reviewing the applicant’s medical history agreed his “depression and anxiety amounted to severe impairments.”

Despite this expert medical testimony, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the applicant’s depression and anxiety disorders did not constitute “severe impairments.” Yet while the applicant did present sufficient evidence of other impairments—including a seizure disorder and a learning disability—these did not prevent him from holding down a full-time job. Accordingly, the ALJ rejected the applicant’s claim for disability benefits.

On appeal, a federal magistrate judge ordered Social Security to reconsider the applicant’s claim. The magistrate took issue with the ALJ’s rejection of the medical experts’ anxiety and depression diagnoses. The ALJ’s conclusion that these impairments were “not severe” conflicted with the only established testimony in the record from the two doctors cited above. This was a “red flag” according to the magistrate, who said the ALJ had a legal duty to provide a “good explanation” for ignoring these expert opinions.

The ALJ claimed the applicant’s mental disorders were not severe because he failed to seek treatment for them. But as the magistrate pointed out, there may be a number of valid reasons why someone with depression or anxiety does not seek treatment. Indeed, the magistrate noted the applicant’s “severe learning disability” may prevent him from understanding that he even suffers from a mental disorder.

The ALJ also cited the notes of a family physician who treated the applicant for his seizure disorder. These notes indicated the applicant denied having depression on two occasions. The magistrate said this did not undermine the medical evidence before Social Security. The magistrate said the ALJ simply “plucked two snapshots from the medical record in order to reject the only two medical opinions she had to consider.”

Contact an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney

Mental disorders are just as capable of limiting a person’s ability to work as a physical impairment. Getting Social Security to understand that is often a difficult and time-consuming process. If you need help from an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, right away.



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