This is a guest post by Anne Morgan, in honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week. Anne Morgan is a partner with the law firm of Rosenfeld & Morgan in South Bend, Indiana. She started representing people in SSDI cases to make a difference in people’s lives. “These benefits help people keep a roof over their head and food on their table. I always wanted to make that kind of difference.”

If you or a loved one is battling a mental illness, it’s always important to remember that you’re not alone.

In America in 2017, one in five adults have mental health conditions, according to Mental Health America, which compiles data from all 50 states about mental health issues.

That’s more than 40 million Americans. More than the population of New York and Florida combined.

What you might not have known is that Social Security provides benefits when a mental health condition keeps you from working.

With numbers like these, it makes sense that mental health plays a major role in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Social Security Disability benefits can help you financially and ease the stress of dealing with your health and a loss of income.

More than 10.2 million people received Social Security Disability benefits in 2015, the Social Security Administration said in its annual report.

SSDI Benefits Aren’t Just for People with Physical Illnesses

Of those beneficiaries, 3.6 million – more than a third of the total enrolled in SSDI – received benefits related to mental disorders in 2015.

A disability related to a mental condition creates specific challenges for winning disability benefits.

It can be more difficult to prove a mental disability under Social Security’s rules than a physical ailment. Health care professionals have a harder time confirming mental disorders. Social Security claims examiners have a harder time understanding them.

But if a mental health issue is keeping you or a family member from working, you should apply for benefits.

Start by getting an overview of how SSDI works for those living with mental health conditions.

Does Social Security Cover Your Mental Health Condition?

The Social Security Administration maintains a “Blue Book,” which it posts online, listing qualifying mental health impairments, including:

¥ autism
¥ schizophrenia
¥ personality disorders
¥ obsessive-compulsive disorder
¥ eating disorders
¥ anxiety
¥ post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD)
¥ depression
¥ bi-polar disorders

What You Need to Prove Your Case

Regardless of what your diagnosis says, your medical evidence is what Social Security calls the “cornerstone” for proving your disability application. The severity of your condition and its effect on your ability to work are what matter most.

The most important evidence is from medical professionals who treated you for your impairment.

This evidence is especially important because Social Security examiners are not licensed psychiatrists. They may not fully grasp the limitations your disorder causes.

Without the right evidence and a well-prepared application, some examiners might get hung up on society’s stubborn stigmas about mental health. They might think an applicant is overstating the problem to get benefits he doesn’t deserve.

Types of Evidence You Need

The Blue Book says you need to show three kinds of evidence:

• Existence of impairment, which includes “objective medical evidence” that you have an impairment
• Severity of impairment, establishing how your impairment affects your ability to work
• Non-medical sources that can make a big difference in helping prove your case.

Those sources include testimony from family members, friends, coworkers and others who can testify about how you handle common situations, how you deal with others and, most importantly, how your impairment affects your ability to work.

Professional Help with Your Application

So the primary factor in a successful application for Social Security Disability benefits is carefully prepared evidence showing the specific challenges of your mental health impairment.

It makes sense to get a professional involved to help present your case.

You can find attorneys who focus on Social Security Disability cases.

Because Social Security Disability has its own legal system, including its own judges, it can make a real difference to be represented by someone experienced in this system.

Lawyers who work these cases frequently know the system and how it works, helping you avoid mistakes and helping you qualify for the maximum benefits possible.

Considerations Before Hiring a Lawyer

Before you choose a lawyer, check them out thoroughly, maybe starting with their website.

Is the lawyer familiar with local judges and local doctors? Does the lawyer meet with you before the day you have a hearing with a judge, to plan a strategy and prepare your testimony to give you the best chance of winning?

Check their experience. How many years of work with SSDI cases do they have? Can they show testimonials from people they’ve represented in Social Security cases?

Since applications based on mental disorders can be more challenging to prove, having an experienced lawyer on your side increases your chances of getting the benefits you need and deserve.

Millions of others have gone through this process. You can get the help you need, too.