Mental illness, also referred to as psychiatric disorder and mental disorder, is an umbrella term for many mental health conditions. These conditions affect the way a person behaves, thinks, and feels emotionally. Some common examples of mental illness include schizophrenia, eating disorders, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders, and depression. Many people have mental health concerns and issues during their lives, but these concerns become a mental illness when the symptoms suffered change the way you deal with the world and affect your ability to function in daily life.woman at window 

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness that can severely impact a person’s day-to-day life and become so disabling, he may not be able to work. If this is the case, it’s possible to receive disability benefits from Social Security (SSDI or SSI). However, it’s helpful to first work with a disability attorney to get your claim approved.  

Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder can affect people in a variety of ways, as this condition has a wide range of symptoms—some that interfere with a person’s ability to stay employed and function normally. Here's a brief look at some of these symptoms:

  • Speech that is disorganized or illogical
  • Speech that is rapid and often cannot be understood by other people
  • Feelings of paranoia, believing other people may want to or are trying to inflict harm
  • Delusions that cause a person to believe there are special messages hidden in common places
  • Loss of interest in grooming, appearance, and hygiene
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Sleeping problems
  • Issues with concentration and memory
  • Feelings of social isolation
  • Hallucinations

These aren’t the only debilitating symptoms for people who live with schizoaffective disorder. They may also suffer from behavioral problems, including:  

  • Taking their medication consistently or obtaining treatment regularly
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Manic behavior—binge eating or spending large quantities of money at one time

The combination of depression/mania and psychosis can present in a cyclical pattern. This means a patient suffering from schizoaffective disorder may go through times when his symptoms are prevalent and times when he experiences few symptoms, if any. 

Proving Your Symptoms for SSDI or SSI Benefits

To receive disability benefits for this schizoaffective disorder from Social Security, you must prove the symptoms of your condition are disabling and make it impossible for you to work. You can do this in one of three ways:

Meet a Listing

You need to prove that your condition matches an impairment listed in the SS Blue Book. To do this, you must show that your symptoms are at the same level of severity given for that impairment. The Blue Book now classifies schizoaffective disorder under the 12.03 listing for Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders, and you must have one or more of the following symptoms on a regular, intermittent basis:

  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Speech that lacks a coherent message
  • Illogical thinking
  • Emotional isolation

If you have these symptoms, to meet a listing you must have an extreme imitation in one or marked limitations in two of the following areas:

  • Understanding, remembering or applying information
  • Interacting with others
  • Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace
  • Adapting or managing oneself

People can also meet the schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders listing if:

  • They’ve suffered a severe and persistent disorder for over two years
  • It has limited their work ability despite medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support or a highly structured setting that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder
  • That despite diminished signs and symptoms you have only achieved marginal adjustment.

Equal a Listing

You need to prove that your impairment is quite similar to an impairment listed in the SS Blue Book with symptoms that equal that listing in their severity and duration. If you can’t meet the listing, you might be able to prove that the combination of your impairments is equal to the listing. However, you may need to hire a disability lawyer to be successful getting this type of claim approved.

Prove Inability to Work

This is the most common way to prove you can't work due to a mental disorder. If you can’t prove that your mental disorder meets or equals the requirements of a listing, you’ll need evidence that you can no longer work. For those suffering from schizoaffective disorder, mood problems and psychosis can make it may be difficult to sustain gainful employment, but your doctor needs to provide medical reports to show your limitiations prevent you from working.

If you suffer from schizoaffective disorder or any type of mental illness, and the symptoms are debilitating and you’re unable to work, contact Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405. We’ll evaluate your claim to determine your eligibility for SS disability benefits.


Timothy J. Cuddigan (Founder - Retired)
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Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience