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How Do I Prove My Mental Disorder is a Disability?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

Social Security disability insurance, Chicago disability benefits lawyer, mental disorder, mental health condition, legally disabledAs a society we tend to discount mental health disorders as somehow less serious than physical impairments. Many people falsely believe that depression is nothing more than “having a bad day” or “feeling sad,” and that even clinical diagnoses are something that can be waved away. Unfortunately, the people who believe this often include the officials who oversee Social Security disability insurance benefits.

Court Chides Social Security for “Inadequate” Assessment of Disability Applicant's Mental Condition

A common problem in disability cases—even those that involve physical impairments—is Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) selectively choosing to ignore evidence. With respect to mental disorders, an ALJ may attempt to cite only examples from the record that suggest the disability applicant is “improving” or perhaps exaggerating his or her symptoms, while simultaneously ignoring the larger medical record. Such cherrypicking of medical evidence is not just insulting to the applicant—it is a clear violation of Social Security regulations and binding court precedent.

Indeed, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago recently had to remind Social Security—yet again—that it needs to take mental disorders seriously. The applicant in this case is a woman now in her early 30s. She applied for disability benefits due to a number of mental impairments, including depression and bipolar disorder.

According to the applicant's medical records, she has been undergoing psychiatric treatment since she was a teenager. Before a Social Security ALJ, the applicant's treating psychiatrist presented her medical history. The psychiatrist diagnosed the applicant with “generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and attention deficit disorder.” He also indicated the applicant's mental health “had deteriorated” in recent years and demonstrated “marked-to-extreme limitations in her ability to deal with work stresses and moderate-to-marked limits in maintaining attention.”

Despite this diagnosis, the ALJ ultimately held the applicant was not legally disabled. The ALJ gave “little weight” to the psychiatrist's opinions, alleging they were inconsistent with his “own findings and observations” during the applicant's medical exams. The ALJ instead chose to give greater weight to a state agency psychiatrist—who reviewed the applicant's medical records but did not personally examine her—who found the applicant only had “moderate limitations” due to her mental disorders.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit found the ALJ's reasoning problematic. The Court said it agreed with the applicant that the ALJ “fixated on select portions of [the treating psychiatrist's] treatment notes and inadequately analyzed his opinions.” Essentially, the ALJ focused on the psychiatrist's assessment of the applicant's “mood and affect” during her exams but ignored his overall diagnosis. And in reviewing the doctor's notes, the ALJ “considered only the signs of possible improvements … and ignored the negative findings.” The ALJ further ignored evidence from other medical professionals that corroborated the applicant's mental health diagnoses. For this and other reasons, the Seventh Circuit said the applicant was entitled to a new hearing.

Get Help From a Chicago Social Security Disability Attorney

Dealing with a serious mental health condition like depression is difficult enough without government officials questioning your diagnosis. If you suffer from any kind of mental impairment that prevents you from working, you need to speak with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer who will make sure Social Security takes your case seriously. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 to schedule an initial consultation today.



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