woman holding headEach year, approximately one in four adults suffers from some type of mental illness—over 55 million people. Additionally, the rate of depression in youth has increased from 8.5 percent in 2011 to over 17 percent in 2020. Despite the increase in mental illness, most people in the U.S. with a mental disorder lack access to care and treatment. And there's also a serious shortage of mental healthcare workers—in some states only one mental health professional for every 1,000 people. It’s estimated that the cost of untreated mental illness in America is 100 billion dollars. This includes substance abuse and unemployment.

Mental illness, also known as a mental disorder and psychiatric disorder, encompasses many mental health conditions that affect the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. There are over 200 types of mental illness, including schizoaffective disorder. This condition includes both mood disorders and psychosis—demonstrated when the patient loses contact with reality. There are two basic types of schizoaffective disorder:

  • Bipolar type, which includes episodes of mania and sometimes severe depression
  • Depressive type, which includes major episodes of depression

Because people experience this disorder differently, the schizoaffective disease isn't as clearly understood as other mental illnesses.

Obtaining Social Security disability benefits for mental illness can be challenging. But if you have symptoms that make it impossible for you to work any job and you are unable to function day-to-day, you may want to hire a disability attorney to help get your claim approved for schizoaffective disorder.

Schizoaffective Disorder and Winning Your Disability Claim

People with schizoaffective disorder can suffer a variety of symptoms—some from the schizophrenic side of the illness, and some are associated with mood disorders. A patient with this condition may:

  • Experience paranoia
  • Hear voices or have hallucinations
  • Have confused and unusual thoughts
  • Have a lack of attention or memory
  • Speak in a manner that's sometimes confusing or doesn’t make sense

The patient may also have suicidal thoughts or tendencies, bouts of depression, changes in eating habits that can affect weight, and sleep problems. Often, people who suffer from schizoaffective disorder lose interest in personal hygiene, their appearance, and overall cleanliness. 

Winning a disability claim for schizoaffective disorder depends mainly on mental health treatment. It's critical that if you suffer from this condition, you are seen and properly diagnosed by a psychiatrist—even if you see a counselor on a regular basis. The opinions of both the counselor and the psychiatrist are important, and your claim approval may depend on if they both report you cannot work. It’s also important that they’re willing to fill out the necessary paperwork for disability benefits for this mental illness.

Getting an approved claim also depends on your adhering to all treatment regimens and taking all medications. If, during a manic episode, you stop taking your medication, it could weaken your claim unless your psychiatrist reports this as a symptom of your disorder.

Functional Limitations and the MRFC Report

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) reviews your claim for schizoaffective disorder, the agency looks at the functional limitations caused by your mental illness and how your life is affected by your disorder, including:

  • If your daily life has been negatively impacted—you're no longer able to grocery shop, pay bills, shower or bathe, or handle day-to-day activities
  • If you’re having difficulty in social situations
  • If you’re having trouble concentrating, staying focused, and getting work done
  • If you’re having episodes that are increasing the deterioration of your condition

To win your claim, you typically need to show that you have an extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two of these areas.

Additionally, doctors who work for the SSA determine your mental residual functional capacity (MRFC) using your submitted records. The agency compiles a report that outlines the severity of your limitations. Here are a few of the areas the SSA doctors evaluate:

  • How well you can follow simple directions
  • How well you can work in a typical work environment without supervision
  • How well you can interact with others
  • How well you can maintain your appearance
  • How well you can tolerate stress

You are more likely to have your claim approved if your mental illness causes more limitations.

Decisions are made on most disability claims solely on the patient’s documented medical records. For claims based on mental illnesses, it’s important to include complete medical records from all healthcare providers who you saw because of this condition. These include records from:

  • A counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist
  • Any stay in a hospital
  • Any emergency room visit that occurred because of your condition
  • All pharmacy records that explain your prescriptions related to your illness

Get Help With Your Claim

If you suffer from schizoaffective disorder, it’s possible to obtain Social Security disability benefits. Contact the disability attorneys Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405 or by email at [email protected] to schedule a free evaluation of your eligibility for compensation.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska