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Will Social Security Ignore Evidence of My Depression and Suicidal Thoughts?

b2ap3_thumbnail_depression-and-suicidal-thoughts-Chicago.jpgSocial Security does not have the best track record when it comes to assessing disability applicants with serious mental disorders. While physical disabilities are relatively simple to assess with diagnostic tests, psychiatric impairments often require extended care by a medical professional. Even then, a layperson—such as a Social Security administrative law judge—may dismiss the severity of mental impairments as merely a case of an applicant faking symptoms in order to receive benefits.

Magistrate: Social Security's Analysis “Troublingly Incomplete”

But remember, eligibility for disability benefits is based on the applicant's inability to work. Such inability may be the result of mental impairments that, among other things, render the applicant incapable of meaningfully accepting direction in a typical workplace setting.

Here is an illustration from an ongoing Illinois disability case. The applicant here filed for disability benefits in 2012, stating she was unable to work due to her learning disability, depression, and frequent suicidal thoughts. Before a Social Security ALJ, the applicant presented extensive evidence documenting her impairments–approximately 367 pages, according to court records.

The ALJ reduced all of this evidence to a one-paragraph summary. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ said the applicant was still capable of performing “simple and repetitive tasks” with “few social demands” and therefore did not qualify for disability benefits. After an an internal Social Security review affirmed that ALJ's findings, the applicant asked a federal court to review her case.

In April, a federal magistrate ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing. The magistrate said the ALJ “erred” in assessing the applicant's mental capacity for work-related activities. The one-paragraph summary represented a “failure to evaluate the bulk of the medical evidence,” the magistrate said, and in fact the summary was “troublingly incomplete.”

For example, the ALJ briefly noted the applicant had been hospitalized for a “few days” due to her psychiatric impairments. In fact, the magistrate said, the applicant had a “history of for hospitalizations totaling 13 nights” over a 10-month period. The magistrate said the ALJ had to explain how a person could be hospitalized so frequently yet still be “capable of sustaining regular employment.”

More importantly, the applicant's psychiatric impairments “strongly” suggested that she “responds negatively to being told what to do.” The medical evidence presented to Social Security indicated that even “relatively innocuous interactions,” such as someone telling her “eat more vegetables,” could trigger serious psychiatric symptoms, including suicidal thoughts. The magistrate said the ALJ had a legal duty to explain how such issues would not affect the applicant's ability to work.

Do You Need Help Proving a Mental Disability?

Depression and frequent suicidal thoughts are serious mental health problems. They should not be cavalierly dismissed by Social Security officials as minor inconveniences that can be worked around. If you are facing difficulty with Social Security over your mental health-related claims, it is important to work with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer who will make sure the agency follows the law. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, if you need to speak with an attorney right away.


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