Due to the national conversation surrounding mental health and mental disability, those topics tend to have a stigma around them. Representation in film and literature has done little to advance the public image of those who suffer from mental health issues or disabilities. Because of this, individuals who are affected by often debilitating conditions are reticent to seek help, or are entirely unaware that there is help out there to be sought. People will often cite the prohibitive cost of treatment as the reason they do not seek it out, but there are programs put in place by both government and private businesses to help those in need.
Do Disability Laws Support Chronic or Acute Mental Illness?
The short answer is yes. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), both run by the US Social Security Administration (SSA), are programs that provide financial assistance to those suffering from mental illness. These programs can also provide medical assistance to vulnerable populations. However, both of these programs operate differently and have different requirements.
The SSDI provides monthly assistance to those who are unable to work due to physical or mental disability. The SSDI uses their own criteria to determine whether or not an individual has a disability. People who have received SSDI benefits for at least two years qualify for Medicare.
The SSI also provides financial assistance to those with disabilities, however, this applies to people who are low-income but are still able to work. Those who receive SSI also qualify for Medicaid.
How to Apply for Mental Health Benefits
Applying for SSDI disability benefits is relatively straightforward. There are several routes you can take, such as applying directly online through the SSA website, calling a toll free number provided on that same website, or in person at a traditional Social Security office. The SSA recommends using a disability starter kit that will help prepare you for your disability interview.
The SSI operates in a very similar fashion, offering an online application as well as another toll-free number. You can once again find your closest Social Security office and schedule an appointment with them to set up your disability interview.
What Qualifications are Needed?
Though both the SSI and SSDI cover mental disability, the requirements for each are different. If an individual is seeking mental health assistance from a trusted and well-trained medical practitioner, it would be wise to figure out which programs they qualify for before beginning the application progress.
In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, a person needs to have worked long enough and recently enough under Social Security to qualify for benefits. The disability must not be short-term or partial in order to receive payable benefits. To determine whether or not an individual is disabled, they will be asked a series of questions in a disability interview. Detailed information about this process and all qualifications necessary can be found on the SSA website.
Qualifying for SSI benefits requires that an individual be blind or disabled, has limited income and resources, and is a US citizen or national. In addition, an individual must not be absent from the US for 30 consecutive days or more and must not be confined to an institution such as a prison or hospital at the government’s expense. A detailed breakdown of all these requirements can also be found on the SSA website.
What Is Covered by an Employer?
Many employers offer an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, that aims to help employees and their family members with a variety of issues — mental health included — in or out of the workplace.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, an estimated 97 percent of companies with more than 5,000 employees have an EAP; 80 percent of companies with 1,001 – 5,000 employees have one; and 75 percent of companies with 251 – 1,000 employees have one.
These programs are often overlooked. All an individual needs to do in order to find out if their workplace offers an EAP is to contact their Human Resources department and simply ask. Though the stigma associated with mental health still exists in many places, it’s important that people who require help reach out for it, otherwise there will be no progress toward acceptance and the issue will remain in a state of inertia.
Author info: Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, and a graduate of the lessons of life (primary) and also the University of Idaho. These days, Noah teaches English as a second language in lovely Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and moonlights as a content strategist for an American based marketing company.