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SSA statistics: mental conditions the basis for many SSD claims

According to the most recent statistics from the Social Security Administration, 10,088,739 people in the U.S. received Social Security disability benefits in 2012. Of those, more than 3.5 million -- 35.5 percent -- were receiving those benefits for a qualifying mental disability, which includes a wide range of diagnoses from clinical depression and schizophrenia to intellectual disabilities and autism-spectrum disorders.

The report also revealed the states with the highest and lowest percentages of beneficiaries with mental conditions. Our neighbor Minnesota came in with the fifth-highest: 46.9 percent of SSD beneficiaries in that state have been diagnosed with disabling mental conditions. The state with the lowest percentage was Alabama, at 29.2 percent. Wisconsin came in around the middle at 39.2 percent.

It may come as a surprise to some that such a large number of people qualify for SSD based on a mental illness or cognitive disorder, but perhaps it shouldn’t. Both are highly stigmatized in our society, and that means it’s likely that the full extent of these disabilities remains hidden from the average person.

We surely all know someone, a family member or a co-worker, who suffers from clinical depression, PTSD or another mental illness. Clearly, these conditions are not always disabling enough to prevent people from working. Our ordinary experience with mental illnesses, however, may not provide a full understanding of how serious these conditions can be in many cases.

Similarly, people with intellectual disabilities generally want to work and participate in society. Nevertheless, many people with intellectual or cognitive issues are indeed unable to perform substantial work because of their disabilities.

When Congress added mental impairments to the list of qualifying conditions in 1984, it’s unlikely that many people expected they would one day account for more than a third of all SSD awards. Now, we know much more about these conditions, including the fact that many are biological and not nearly as dissimilar to physical disabilities as was once assumed. The prevalence of people with disabling mental conditions on SSD roles shouldn’t be controversial. It should serve to open our eyes to just how serious these disabilities can be.

Source: CNS News, "35.5% of Disability Beneficiaries Have ‘Mental Disorder’; 43.2% in D.C.," Ali Meyer, Jan. 28, 2014

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