Depression and Work Disability

can't work due to depression

Being depressed makes life difficult in nearly every way. It’s difficult to get up out of bed in the morning, difficult to keep up with your own grooming needs, difficult to think and concentrate and make decisions, and difficult to stay awake during the day. All of these factors, and many others, make working a regular schedule nearly impossible. When you are sick, be it with a cold, the flu, or something more serious most people don’t have to give a second thought to calling out of work. But what do you say to your boss when your mental illness keeps you from being able to work? Only when you approach that question do you truly realize how much stigma is related to mental illness. How does one call in sick with depression?


In addition to the difficulty with calling in sick comes the fact that we all have only a limited number of sick days, or alternately a finite number of absences that our bosses will allow. However, to even be diagnosed with depression the symptoms must last for at least two weeks. For the vast majority of depression sufferers, two weeks is only the beginning of their battle with depression. Yet two weeks is often the total amount of time one gets for sick or vacation days. So what does a depression sufferer do when those days run out? Due to the stigma associated with mental illness it is easy to imagine a situation where your boss wouldn’t understand your issues. After all, taking a few days off when you can’t get out of bed due to illness is very different than needing an unknown amount of time to get through a bout of depression.


So what options do the depressed have when facing an extended absence? Hopefully, you will have an understanding boss or HR director who can work around the problem. One option is to request time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA is a national law that entitles those eligible employees to take leave of up to 12 workweeks in a 12 month period. According to the United States Department of Labor one of the reasons you can be eligible for FMLA is “a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.” Luckily, this can include mental illness.


However, not everyone is eligible for time off from work through the FMLA. And unfortunately, 12 weeks may not be enough to treat your depression to the point where you can return to work. Sometimes the only option is to consider applying for Social Security Disability Insurance. Luckily, the listing of impairments that qualify for social security disability includes “affective disorders” otherwise known as mood disorders, including major depression. Qualifications necessary to be eligible for SSDI include the following:


  • Meeting the criterion for Major Depressive Disorder as diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional
  • The depression results in restrictions or difficulty in at least two of the following:
    1. Activities of daily living
    2. Social functioning
    3. Inability to maintain concentration or work pace
    4. Continuing deterioration of the depressive condition


The process for applying for disability can be a very long and drawn out affair, requiring a lot of paperwork, phone calls and documentation. This can be especially difficult for someone suffering from major depression, and it is important to have someone to help you make it through this process, be it a friend, family member or a lawyer.


The first step in the process of applying for disability is the initial disability interview. This can be done in person at a local social security office, over the phone, or online through In the initial interview you will be required to have the following information:


  • Social security number and proof of age
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of all your treating doctors, clinics and hospital stays, as well as the dates of each visit
  • Names and dosages of all prescription medications
  • All relevant medical records in your possession, including tests and laboratory results
  • A summary of your work experience
  • Your most recent W-2 or a copy of your federal tax return
  • A personal statement (if desired)


It is very important to have as much of this information as possible available at your disposal before you start the application process. Any additional information that is needed will be requested by the SSDI department through the information you supply about your care providers. As the process progresses, you may be required to follow up with your doctors to make sure that they have sent in all the necessary information. Without this information your case may be denied simply because the SSDI case worker does not have all the data. Lastly, the most important part of applying for disability is patience. Although the process is long and grueling, and many people don’t get accepted on the first try, it is important to be patient and continue to fight for your disability rights.