Mental Disorders Lead Cause of Disability Payments

According to the latest Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, of the 10,088,739 disabled people receiving federal disability benefits in December 2012, according to the report, 3,576,844—or 35.5 percent–were diagnosed with a mental disorder.

The second largest diagnostic group for disabled beneficiaries was “musculoskeletal system and connective tissue” problems. Of the 10,088,739 disabled people receiving federal disability benefits in December 2012, 2,730,100—or 27.1 percent—had been diagnosed with a problem in this category.

Within the mental disorders diagnostic group, the SSA reports numbers for eight subgroups. These include autistic disorders (37,445 or 0.4 percent of all disabled beneficiaries), developmental disorders (12,193 or 0.1 percent), childhood and adolescent disorders not elsewhere classified (11,621 or 0.1 percent), intellectual disability (845,189 or 8.4 percent), mood disorders (1,424,681 or 14.1 percent), organic mental disorders (341,209 or 3.4 percent), schizophrenic and other psychotic disorders (518,752 or 5.1 percent), and other (385,754 or 3.8 percent).

To be determined to be suffering a disabling mood disorder, a person must exhibit a combination of multiple factors. These include such things as “appetite disturbance with change in weight; or sleep disturbance; or psychomotor agitation or retardation; or decreased energy; or feelings of guilt or worthlessness; or difficulty concentrating or thinking; or thoughts of suicide; or hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking.”

In 1984, Congress made amendments to the disability program that according to a history of the program posted on the Social Security Administration’s website, increased the number of beneficiaries with “mental impairments.”

“Disability benefits could not be discontinued unless there had been medical improvement, the beneficiary was capable of performing substantial gainful activity because of medical/vocational therapy or technology; or the initial determination was in error,” the SSA history says in explaining the 1984 amendments.

“The Secretary was required to revise the criteria under the Mental Disorders category in the Listing of Impairments used to make disability determinations, and SSA was prohibited from conducting continuing disability reviews in mental impairment cases until the revisions were published in a final regulation,” says the SSA history.

“One significant pattern that emerged following the 1984 Amendments involved beneficiaries with mental impairments,” says the history. “Changes in the medical listings had the effect of increasing this category of disability beneficiaries. The revised listings for mental impairments reduced the weight given to medical factors and put a greater weight on functional capacities, such as the applicant’s ability to perform activities of daily living. They also required that evidence provided by the applicant’s health care provider be considered first, before a consultative examination. Between 1985 and 1986, the proportion of awards for mental impairments increased from 18 percent to 30 percent of all awards, and has remained at approximately the same level ever since.” See source material here: