attorney james ezzellIn a number of my blog posts I have examined what criteria the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks for when evaluating physical and emotional ailments for the purposes of awarding disability benefits. A simple diagnosis is never enough. Continuing that trend, I thought I would talk about another common ailment that I see a lot of these days with my clients, Depression, and how the SSA determines the severity of its impact on a claimant’s ability to work.

In my February 6, 2018 blog post I profiled the SSA’s Anxiety listing, and while oftentimes individuals suffering from both ailments have a hard time differentiating the symptoms associated with each, the SSA does not and considers them distinct illnesses.

Symptoms of Depression

The general symptomatology associated with a Depressive Disorder, as the SSA terms it, can present itself in several different forms. Common symptoms may include an irritable or depressed mood. These individuals frequently experience a loss of interest in activities, social ones in particular, that the individual once enjoyed, leading them to isolate and avoid family and friends.

They may also experience problems with their appetite, going through phases where they are ravenous, or in the alternative, barely eat anything at all leading to dramatic fluctuations in weight. They may sleep excessively or go days without it, which in and of itself can cause remarkable cognitive difficulties leading to an inability to focus or remember things. They may become restless or lethargic, what the SSA terms “psychomotor agitation or retardation.”

Individuals suffering from Depression may also experience periods where, any physical ailments notwithstanding, just don’t have the mental or emotional energy to get up out of bed, bathe and dress. They often feel guilty or lack self-worth and contemplate or attempt suicide. For what it’s worth, while Depression is a key component of a Bipolar Disorder finding, that portion of the listing also requires a Manic finding to complete.

How the SSA Reviews Depression Claims

Below is the actual listing the SSA uses in reviewing disability claims based on Depression for those interested in specifics:

12.04 Depressive, bipolar and related disorders (see 12.00B3), satisfied by A and B, or A and C:

  1. Medical documentation of the requirements of paragraph 1 or 2:
    1. Depressive disorder, characterized by five or more of the following:
      1. Depressed mood;
      2. Diminished interest in almost all activities;
      3. Appetite disturbance with change in weight;
      4. Sleep disturbance;
      5. Observable psychomotor agitation or retardation;
      6. Decreased energy;
      7. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;
      8. Difficulty concentrating or thinking; or
      9. Thoughts of death or suicide.
    2. Bipolar disorder, characterized by three or more of the following:
      1. Pressured speech;
      2. Flight of ideas;
      3. Inflated self-esteem;
      4. Decreased need for sleep;
      5. Distractibility;
      6. Involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences that are not recognized; or
      7. Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation.


  1. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F):
    1. Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1).
    2. Interact with others (see 12.00E2).
    3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3).
    4. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4).


  1. Your mental disorder in this listing category is “serious and persistent;” that is, you have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both:
    1. Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder (see 12.00G2b); and
    2. Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life (see 12.00G2c).

If you or your child have been denied SSA disability benefits or suffer from a severe impairment that is expected to last for more than twelve months and that prevents you from doing any of your past or other work or is causing developmental delay in your child, please contact our office nearest to you to set up a free consultation appointment to discuss your situation.

James Ezzell
Written by James Ezzell

James Ezzell is an attorney at the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Huntsville, Alabama. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Alabama, and a Juris Doctorate from the Mississippi College School of Law. James prides himself in working and winning SSA Disability cases for people truly in need of his help. Read his full bio here.

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