Is Major Depressive Disorder Considered a Disability?

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To fully answer this question, we must recognize that the concept of “disability” carries different meanings and connotations in different social contexts. Some have seen disability as a disqualifier or “less-than.” However, many people with disabilities claim it proudly as part of their identity. And most of us may experience disability at some point during our lives. It serves as an important legal term for those seeking protection or assistance from the government. It can also be a connection between people in the larger disability community.


The short answer is yes. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a “psychiatric disability” that’s protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, not everyone with depression meets the legal criteria for disability laid out in the ADA. Likewise, applying for disability benefits doesn’t define you. It also doesn’t determine your worth or capabilities in other facets of your life. People can experience varying degrees of depression with different symptoms throughout their lifetimes. 


Keep reading for more on what “disability” means and the pros and cons of claiming disability status. We’ll also cover how treatment for depression can improve your ability to live a full life that’s as ordinary or as “extra” as you want it to be.


Major depressive disorder and the ADA


People with disabilities as we think of them today have not always had legal protection from discrimination. The disability rights movement still fights to secure people’s rights when their differences keep them from participating in an ordinary part of life. Depression can definitely be a disability that comes with impairments, or major limitations to life activities.


For example, say a person functions best later in the day because of their antidepressant medication. Or they need a flexible schedule to accommodate an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). They might not see themselves as disabled in any other social situation. Still, they might have to apply for disability status with the government to protect themselves against discrimination, which could leave them jobless.


About 18% of the U.S. workforce reports having a mental health condition in any given month. That means psychiatric disabilities like depression are some of the most common types of disability the ADA covers. 


When mental health disorders become disabilities


When it comes to disability, mental health disorders are often stigmatized. This stigma can create additional challenges for people who are seeking support and accommodations for their mental health condition. 


There are plenty of valid ways that people with disabilities like depression or MDD choose to identify themselves (or not). In our complex modern lives, it often depends on the situation and the people involved. If your depression is interfering with your ability to find and keep a job, housing, food or social support, it’s important to take some time to reflect on what the word “disability” means to you.


In 1977, disability rights organizer Kitty Cone said that the monthlong sit-in at the UN Building in San Francisco was the first time that “disability really was looked at as an issue of civil rights rather than an issue of charity and rehabilitation at best, pity at worst.” That says a lot about how people with disabilities have been treated in their communities, not only by authorities and health care providers, but also by people they interact with every day, like friends and family.


To the U.S. government, a person becomes disabled when they have a medical condition that lasts at least 12 months. It must impact one or more areas of life and make it “impossible” for that person to earn money and support themselves by engaging in any sort of work. People who pass these narrow criteria can receive Social Security benefits and medical insurance. 


How treatment can help people with MDD


The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes MDD as “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.” In the most technical sense, a psychiatrist uses the APA’s guidelines to make a clinical diagnosis. Someone in an acute depressive episode will likely have a hard time performing at work. People can also make a full recovery from depression and then experience relapses. The extent and frequency of one person’s symptoms will be unique and different from other people with the same diagnosis.


Getting to know yourself and how your depression manifests should help you determine whether you think of it as a disability. And if so, under what circumstances. Discussing your symptom-related challenges with a therapist can help you better understand triggers and develop coping skills and behaviors.


For instance, feelings of unworthiness, slowed thinking and speaking, or a lack of energy and motivation. While one of the ultimate goals of treatment is to manage those symptoms effectively, of course, it takes time to heal. If you want to improve your own well-being, it’s important to get treatment and support as you address your depression.


How we help at Lightfully


We understand you need a lot of support to do everyday things with MDD. We support you through a whole-person-centered care process as you learn the skills you’ll need to stay well and advocate for yourself. Our compassionate, licensed clinicians offer the highest level of evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven care available today. 


Are you curious to see if Lightfully is for you? Contact us to ask about an assessment today.

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