Can Depression Be Considered a Disability? Exploring the Facts

Can Depression Be Considered a Disability? Exploring the Facts

Legal Status of Depression: An Overview

Is depression a disability? Yes, it can be. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), major depressive disorder qualifies as a mental impairment that can be a disability if it “substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

  • Major life activities can include:
  • Understanding or remembering information
  • Interacting with others
  • Concentrating or maintaining a pace
  • Managing oneself

Under the ADA, depression is recognized as a disability if it significantly hinders your daily life. However, the specific impacts vary from person to person.

Federal guidelines, like those from the ADA and the Social Security Administration (SSA), provide definitions and criteria to determine if depression meets the threshold for disability. Understanding these definitions helps clarify whether you might qualify for certain benefits or workplace accommodations. For example, the SSA requires detailed documentation of symptoms and how they affect your ability to function in everyday life.

I’m Ethan Pease, and I’ve dedicated my career to helping people like you navigate complex legal matters related to workers’ compensation and disability law. With experience in advocating for the rights of injured workers, I’m here to help you understand your rights and options when dealing with depression as a potential disability.

Infographic: Depression as a disability criteria - ADA vs. SSA - is depression a disability infographic comparison-2-items-formal

Understanding Depression

Depression is more than just feeling sad or down. It’s a serious mental health condition that can affect every part of your life. Let’s dive into the symptoms, causes, and types of depression to get a better understanding.

Symptoms of Depression

Depression symptoms can vary from person to person, but some common ones include:

  • Low Mood: Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless.
  • Fatigue: Constant tiredness and lack of energy.
  • Cognitive Difficulties: Trouble thinking, concentrating, and making decisions (often called “brain fog”).
  • Sleep Problems: Either trouble sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping too much (hypersomnia).
  • Suicidal Ideation: Thoughts of death or suicide.

Other symptoms can include changes in appetite, irritability, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.

To be diagnosed with depression, these symptoms must last at least two weeks and affect your daily functioning.

Causes of Depression

Depression doesn’t have a single cause. Instead, it’s often a combination of factors:

  • Brain Chemistry: Imbalances in brain chemicals can affect mood and thinking.
  • Environmental Factors: Living in stressful environments, facing abuse, neglect, or poverty can increase the risk of depression.
  • Genetics: Depression can run in families, indicating a genetic link.
  • Personality: Certain personality types, like those who are highly stressed or pessimistic, may be more prone to depression.


Diagnosing depression usually involves a clinical interview and evaluation based on the DSM-5 criteria. A doctor may also conduct physical exams and lab tests to rule out other conditions that mimic depression symptoms, such as thyroid problems or brain tumors.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

There are different types of depression:

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): This is a severe form of depression requiring a diagnosis of at least five symptoms lasting two weeks or more. MDD can significantly impact daily life and functioning.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD): Also known as dysthymia, this is a chronic form of depression lasting for at least two years. While less severe than MDD, it can still affect daily life.

Understanding these aspects of depression is crucial for recognizing the condition and seeking appropriate help. Next, we’ll explore whether depression can be considered a disability and what that means for you.

understanding depression - is depression a disability

Is Depression a Disability?

Depression under the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) classifies major depressive disorder as a mental impairment. But to be considered a disability under the ADA, it must substantially limit one or more major life activities. This means the symptoms of depression should significantly impact daily tasks like working, sleeping, or interacting with others.

Legal Protections:
– Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with depression.
– Accommodations might include flexible work hours, telecommuting, or additional breaks.
– The ADA ensures you can’t be fired just because you have depression.

A key point is that even if your depression is temporary, it can still be considered a disability if it impacts your daily life significantly.

Depression under the SSA

The Social Security Administration (SSA) also recognizes depression as a disability, but the criteria are stricter. Depression must prevent you from working and earning a substantial income, typically defined as less than $1,350 per month.

To qualify for SSA disability benefits like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you need to meet specific eligibility criteria:

SSDI Eligibility Criteria:
– Must have worked a job covered by Social Security.
– Must have a medical condition that meets SSA’s definition of disability.
– Must have earned enough work credits based on your age at the time of disability.

SSI Eligibility Criteria:
– Must be 65 or older, blind, or disabled.
– Must have limited income and resources.
– U.S. citizenship or specific residency requirements apply.

Financial Assistance:
SSDI provides monthly payments based on your previous earnings.
SSI offers financial aid to cover basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter.

Depression must be well-documented and persistent for at least two years to qualify for these benefits. Medical records and treatment history play a crucial role in your application.

Understanding how the ADA and SSA define and treat depression as a disability can help you navigate the process of seeking assistance and accommodations. Next, we’ll guide you through the application process for disability benefits.

Applying for Disability Benefits

Required Information for SSDI and SSI

Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can be a lengthy process. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

General Information:
Date and place of birth
Marriage and divorce status
Bank details for direct deposits

Medical Information:
Examinations or treatments: Names and contact details of healthcare providers
Medical tests: Who recommended them
Medications: Current and past prescriptions, reasons for them

Employment History:
Employment details for the last 3 years
When depression began to affect work
Types of previous employment before depression made it impossible

You can submit this information online, over the phone, or in person at your local SSA office. The SSA will then determine your eligibility for SSDI or SSI.

Financial Assistance Options

If you qualify, you can receive financial assistance through SSDI, SSI, or Medicaid. Here’s a breakdown of each:

Based on work history: Payments depend on your previous earnings
Eligibility: Must have worked in jobs covered by Social Security

Needs-based: For individuals with limited income and resources
Covers basic needs: Food, clothing, and shelter

Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act: Requires Medicaid to provide financial help for mental health care
Covers treatment costs: Helps people with depression access necessary treatments

If you don’t qualify for SSDI or SSI, you can appeal the decision within 60 days. Additionally, consider requesting workplace accommodations to help manage your condition while working.

Understanding the required information and available financial assistance options can make the application process less overwhelming. Next, we’ll discuss how to request workplace accommodations for depression.

Workplace Accommodations for Depression

Examples of Workplace Accommodations

Navigating work while dealing with depression can be challenging. Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers protections and ensures that employers provide reasonable accommodations to help employees with depression perform their job duties effectively.

Flexible Scheduling:

One common accommodation is flexible scheduling. This can mean allowing employees to start or end their workday at different times, or even work part-time. For instance, someone might find it easier to work four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening rather than a continuous eight-hour shift. This flexibility can help manage symptoms like fatigue and cognitive difficulties.


Another helpful accommodation is telecommuting. Working from home can reduce stress and provide a more comfortable environment for those with depression. It can also eliminate the stress of commuting, which can be a significant burden for some individuals.

Personal Breaks:

Allowing personal breaks as needed rather than on a strict schedule can also be beneficial. Employees might need short breaks to manage their mental health throughout the day. This flexibility can help them stay productive and manage their symptoms more effectively.

Job Duty Modifications:

Sometimes, modifying job duties can make a big difference. This might involve dividing tasks into smaller, more manageable steps or providing additional support for certain tasks. For example, an employee struggling with concentration might benefit from having their tasks clearly outlined and broken down into smaller parts.

Employer Responsibilities:

Employers are responsible for providing these accommodations unless it causes undue hardship to the business. This means that the accommodation should not be too difficult or expensive to implement. Employers should engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine the best accommodations.

ADA Rights:

Under the ADA, employees have the right to request accommodations without fear of retaliation. Employers must keep any medical information confidential and cannot discriminate against employees for having a mental health condition.

Understanding these options can help employees with depression maintain their employment and manage their condition effectively. Next, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about depression as a disability.

Frequently Asked Questions about Depression as a Disability

Is depression considered a disability?

Yes, depression can be considered a disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is any impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This includes mental impairments like major depressive disorder. If depression significantly impacts your ability to perform everyday tasks, such as working, caring for yourself, or interacting with others, it qualifies as a disability.

What happens if I can’t work due to mental illness?

If you can’t work due to mental illness, you may be eligible for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA has specific criteria to determine eligibility for benefits like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These programs provide financial assistance to individuals who cannot work due to severe mental health conditions. Each case is assessed individually, considering your medical history, symptoms, and how they affect your daily life and ability to work.

How do you explain depression as a disability?

Depression is a severe mental health problem that can make everyday tasks extremely challenging. It affects how a person thinks, feels, and functions. To qualify as a disability, depression must substantially limit one or more major life activities. This can include difficulties in working, maintaining personal relationships, or performing basic self-care tasks. The long-term impact of depression can be debilitating, making it essential to recognize it as a legitimate disability that requires support and accommodations.


At Visionary Law Group, we understand how debilitating depression can be and the significant impact it has on your daily life. If you’re struggling with depression and wondering if it qualifies as a disability, know that you are not alone. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) provide specific guidelines to help individuals like you secure the support and accommodations you need.

Navigating the complexities of disability benefits can be overwhelming, especially when you’re already dealing with the challenges of depression. That’s where we come in. Our team is dedicated to helping you understand your rights and the steps you need to take to apply for benefits. Whether it’s SSDI, SSI, or workplace accommodations, we are here to guide you through every step of the process.

Don’t face this alone. Let us help you secure the financial assistance and workplace accommodations you deserve. Take the first step towards a better quality of life by scheduling a free case evaluation with Visionary Law Group today.

Your journey to recovery and financial security starts with a single step. Let us be your partner in this journey. For more information on how we can assist you, visit our Workers’ Compensation Service Page. We’re here to help you every step of the way.

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