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Currently, there is no cure for the chronic brain condition known as schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a complex mental disorder. Researchers believe that both genetic and environmental factors can cause this condition. Most people with schizophrenia are diagnosed by psychiatrists during their 20s or 30s after thorough testing.

While there are treatments available, many people with schizophrenia suffer from symptoms that impact their everyday lives and leave them unable to work. If you are one of these people, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

How Schizophrenia Impacts Your Daily Activities

Symptoms of schizophrenia can come and go throughout a person’s lifetime. Symptoms may become more severe, for example, if a treatment stops working or if a person is under a significant amount of stress. According to the American Psychiatric Association, some of these symptoms may include:

  • Positive psychotic symptoms. Hallucinations, which may include hearing voices or paranoid delusions, may occur.
  • Negative symptoms. A person with schizophrenia may experience a loss of ability to make plans, communicate, or express emotion.
  • Disorganization symptoms. Confusion, trouble with logical thinking, or different behaviors may occur.
  • Impaired cognition. Difficulties with attention, concentration, or memory may be present.

These symptoms may be controlled with various treatments, including:

  • Medications. Anti-psychotic and anti-tremor medications may be helpful.
  • Therapies. Support groups, cognitive therapy, psychotherapy, behavior therapy, and other types of therapies may be useful.

The treatments may not be effective forever, however.

Social Security Disability Eligibility

A schizophrenia diagnosis will not automatically make you eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Instead, you will need to prove that your condition meets the requirements of Section 12.03 in the Listing of Impairments, that your condition is equal in severity to another condition in the Listing of Impairments, or that your condition is permanent and leaves you unable to engage in substantial gainful activity.

Do You Meet the Requirements of Section 12.03?

In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits pursuant to this section of the Listing of Impairments, you must have medical documentation that proves that one or more of the following is true:

  • You suffer from delusions or hallucinations.
  • You suffer from disorganized thinking or speech.
  • You have grossly disorganized behavior or catatonia.

Additionally, you must prove one of the following:

  • You have an extreme limitation of at least one or a marked limitation of at least two of the following areas of mental functioning:  (1) understanding, remembering, or applying information; (2) interacting with others; (3) concentrating, persisting or maintain pace; or (4) adapting or managing yourself.
  • Your condition is serious and persistent because you have medical documentation of the disorder for at least two years and both of the following are true: (1) you have engaged in medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support, or a highly structured setting that is ongoing and that diminishes your symptoms; and (2) you have marginal adjustment or a minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life.

If you cannot meet this standard and you cannot work because of schizophrenia then you may still qualify for benefits in another way.

Do You Qualify in a Different Way?

There are two other ways to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. You may be able to prove that:

  • Your symptoms are equal in severity to another listing in the Listing of Impairments. If this is true then you are eligible for Social Security disability.
  • You suffer from a permanent and total disability that prevents you from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Again, this could qualify you for Social Security disability benefits.

Medical documentation and other evidence will be necessary to prove your eligibility.

Protect the Social Security Disability Benefits You’ve Earned

The majority of initial Social Security disability applications are denied, and some people with schizophrenia do not qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Accordingly, it is important to work with a board certified Social Security disability lawyer who can make sure that your rights are protected and that you get the benefits you deserve if you suffer from this type of mental disorder. To learn more, please download our FREE Social Security Disability Fact Sheet or call us today for a confidential consultation.

Morgan & Weisbrod LLP

by Paul B. Burkhalter
Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.


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