While public awareness of the problem is growing, mental illness is much more common than many people realize. According to some estimates, as many as 1 in 5 American adults experience mental illness, and as many as 1 in 25 live with a serious mental illness.
The most common mental illness diagnoses are for anxiety and depression. These affect tens of millions of Americans, and they can vary greatly in terms of their intensity and duration. For some, these conditions are temporary or intermittent, but for others they can be chronic and severe.
When a person’s mental illness is so severe that they are unable to work for a living, they may be able to rely upon federal government programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income. Both these programs are run by the Social Security Administration, but the work quite differently from each other.
Social Security Disability Insurance, like Social Security retirement benefits, is available for people who have sufficient credits in their work history. To be eligible, applicants must show that they have been working for a certain number of years, and that their condition has made them unable to work. The Social Security Administration has a long list of physical and mental conditions that may make someone eligible, but it decides each application on a case-by-case basis.
The conditions that can make a person eligible for Supplemental Security Income are the same, but this program does not have the same work requirements. SSI provides benefits to people whose conditions have left them unable to work regardless of their work history. For this reason, SSI is commonly the better program for people whose mental illness or other conditions began affecting them in childhood, or before they were old enough to be in the workforce for several years.
The process of applying for benefits through these programs is difficult, even for people who do not suffer from mental health issues. A lawyer with experience in Social Security Disability can help people understand their options, advise them through the application process, represent them at hearings and argue on their behalf, should it be necessary.