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Is Depression a Disability? What You Need to Know

We’re all prone to feeling sad and defeated at different times in our lives, but ongoing depression can make it harder to function and carry out simple daily tasks.

Depression is one of those silent internal battles and you never know who might be struggling.

If you are worried that your mental health is starting to impact your ability to get through the day, you may be wondering whether depression is considered a disability.

In this article, we will dive a little deeper into the different types of depression, what it means in relation to the ADA, and the benefits you may have access to. 

Infographic: Is depression a disability

What Is Depression?

Depression is a common mental health condition that results in intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It can impact how you interact with others and your ability to function in your day-to-day life.

The World Health Organization states that 5% of people around the globe are currently struggling with some form of depression. 

The symptoms associated with depression and their severity are different for everyone. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
  • Feeling sad or hopeless about life.
  • Changes in weight and appetite.
  • Feeling worthless.
  • Fixations on your shortcomings or past behaviors or occurrences.
  • Frustration and irritability.
  • Fatigue and restlessness. 
  • Thoughts of self-harm.

Even though depression is linked to hormones and brain chemistry, there are a number of other underlying medical conditions that can result in similar symptoms. Thyroid issues and brain tumors are some examples. 

It can also be linked to environmental factors and changes in your life circumstances. 

Help is available for depression in the form of therapy and medication. Some people will only need assistance temporarily, while others may face a lifelong battle.

Understanding the Different Types of Depression

Depression comes in many forms and affects everyone slightly differently. 

Major Depression

Major depression is when you feel depressed most of the time and have lost interest in the things that used to bring you joy for no reason at all. People with major depression are often the most suicidal and tend to lose or gain weight and have trouble sleeping. 

There are also different types of major depression, including anxious distress, melancholy, and agitated depression.

Major depression can only be diagnosed if you’ve experienced most of the major symptoms for two weeks or more. 

Persistent Depressive Disorder

Depression that lasts two years or more is referred to as persistent depressive disorder. A change in appetite, sleeping too much or too little, low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness are all symptoms.

Bipolar Disorder

A person with bipolar disorder, also referred to as manic depression, experiences extreme highs and lows on a weekly basis. The low phase of bipolar disorder is linked to the same symptoms of major depression. 

Traditional medication for depression is usually not the first course of action with bipolar disorder – other medication is considered first. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

This type of depression generally occurs during specific times of the year, most often in the winter months when the days are shorter. Temporary antidepressants can help someone move through SAD. It also helps to sit outside as much as possible during the winter months.

Psychotic Depression

Psychotic depression presents with all the same symptoms as major depression, but includes psychotic symptoms too. These include hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. Patients with psychotic depression need a combination of antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs. 

Peripartum/Postpartum Depression

A number of women experience depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy. If left untreated, it can turn into major depression, which is why it’s important to speak to a physician if you’re experiencing symptoms related to depression before or after childbirth. 

Situational Depression

This is another temporary form of depression that is linked to a stressful life event such as death, losing a job, or divorce. Therapy is generally enough to overcome this type of depression, but medication can also be used for a short period of time. 

Atypical Depression

Atypical depression refers to a pattern of depressive episodes, which will lessen when a positive event occurs. Symptoms include heaviness in the arms and legs, oversensitivity as well as sleeping and eating more than usual. 

Treatment-Resistant Depression

Lastly, there is treatment-resistant depression, which means therapy and medication is not working. In most instances, this is mainly due to another underlying medical condition that is difficult to treat. Less conventional treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy can be used. 

Is Depression a Disability?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is any impairment or condition that severely limits one or more major life activities. 

Having a history of an impairment can also play a role in whether something is deemed a disability or not. Crippling episodes are included in this, which is common with depression. 

Someone with a hidden disability such as depression does have rights. The ADA states that you cannot be discriminated against. This includes the workplace, transportation, and any other areas of public accommodation. Everyone is entitled to equal rights and opportunities, regardless of ability. 

People with qualifying disabilities that impact their ability to work are entitled to financial compensation and reasonable work accommodations. 

Financial Support Programs for People with Depression

Before you look into financial assistance programs for your depression, consider requesting accommodations to ensure you can carry out your work duties more easily.

If you are unable to work though, there are two options you can consider.

Social Security Disability Insurance

People who’ve been unable to work for at least a year and were contributing to Social Security when they were employed may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

The contributions you qualify for will depend on the Social Security deductions you paid while working. You will also need to have worked a job that was covered by Social Security and have a qualifying medical condition that meets the definition of disability. 

You can apply for SSDI online here.

Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for anyone with little to no income, providing them with the cash they need to purchase shelter, clothing, and food. 

To qualify for SSI, you will need to provide proof of low income and minimal assets. Unlike SSDI, where you need to have paid Social Security while employed, SSI doesn’t have this requirement. 

Other qualifications include:

  • Being 65 or older, blind, or disabled.
  • Being a U.S. citizen.
  • Not leaving the country for a full calendar month.
  • Not being in a government institution like a hospital or prison. 
  • Having assets that are worth less than $2,000. 

You can apply for SSI online here.

Receiving Payments for Depression as a Disability

SSDI benefits can only be paid over to you electronically, either via a bank account or a prepaid debit card. There is also a five-month waiting period before you can start receiving payments. 

SSI benefits are paid in a similar manner. However, the turnaround time for payments following your application is generally quicker. You will receive the same amount of money every month, but the total can change. You will be warned in advance if the total changes. 

You can also get in touch with the Social Security Administration if you don’t agree with any changes in your SSI benefits. 

What To Do If You Don’t Qualify for Disability Benefits

Not everyone will qualify for disability benefits for depression. 

If your application is denied, you can make an appeal to the Social Security Administration and request that your application be reconsidered. You can do so by completing this form – you need to do this within 60 days of your application being denied. 

The other option is to request accommodations at your place of employment. Just keep in mind that this means you need to disclose your depression to your employer. Accommodations can include altering your work schedule and providing you with longer breaks or more vacation time. 

In Closing

Depending on how severe your depression is, it may qualify as a disability. Disclosing your condition to your employer is a good first step to take before you consider disability benefits. Either way, support is readily available to you through multiple avenues.


Depression is deemed a disability when it severely impacts your ability to work and carry out your usual daily tasks. The ADA protects people with depression, ensuring they aren’t discriminated against in the workplace and other areas of life. Financial support programs are also available to people who are unable to work due to depression. 


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