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Preparing for the Social Security Disability Mental Status Exam

By December 22, 2020January 31st, 20244 min read

Physical limitations are not the only conditions that warrant Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Severe, debilitating mental health disorders can also keep individuals from being able to work too. If you apply for either SSDI or SSI based on a mental health disability, you first need to prove you have a qualifying condition. However, many people lack a recorded medical history that includes details concerning their mental health. To apply and qualify for SSDI and/or SSI benefits, claimants will need to complete an exam to determine whether they are eligible or not.

What Is a Mental Status Exam for Disability?

Since many people do not have a recorded mental health medical history, a mental status exam helps the Social Security Administration (SSA) appropriately gauge your condition and determine whether it qualifies you for disability benefits. Four kinds of mental health examinations may be used:

Psychiatric examination: Scheduled for individuals suffering from schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or psychosis.

Psychological examination: Frequently ordered for claimants suffering from head injuries, organic brain disorders, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, or cognitive disorders. A standard IQ test will likely be administered in these kinds of evaluations, which are designed to measure processing speed, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and verbal comprehension.

Memory scale examination: Used for individuals suffering from short-term memory loss, such as victims of stroke and traumatic brain injury, and claimants who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Mental status examination: Often used for applicants suffering from mood disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.

Who Performs a Social Security Mental Health Exam?

Your treating physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist will administer one or more mental health exams. However, an independent practitioner (not employed by the SSA) may conduct these on behalf of the SSA under the following circumstances:

  • Your treating physician chooses not to perform the exam.
  • Your treating physician is not considered a productive source based on the SSA’s prior experience.
  • You prefer an independent physician and have a valid reason to back up your request.
  • Your medical records have inconsistencies, and your treating physician is deemed the source of those discrepancies.

Once the SSA decides you need to undergo one or more of the four mental status examinations, it will coordinate a time and place with a participating physician close to where you live. The cost of these exams is covered by the SSA.

How to Prepare SSDI Mental Status Exam

Make sure you have your Social Security claim number and identification ready to take with you to your exam. You should also consider your medical history and be prepared to tell the doctor about:

  • Previous diagnoses
  • Current symptoms
  • Treatments
  • Treatment results
  • Current medications
  • Previous hospitalizations

What Happens During a Mental Evaluation for Disability?

Social Security mental health exams generally take about 30 to 60 minutes to complete but can take longer. As mentioned, these examinations are designed to accurately assess your mental health. Doctors will ask you a lot of questions concerning your medical, social, work, and criminal history to fill in any gaps on your disability application and give the SSA a better sense of your limitations.

SSDI psychological evaluation and mental status exams typically include questions like:

  • What are your known impairments?
  • When did these symptoms start?
  • How have these symptoms progressed?
  • How do these impairments affect your everyday ability to live and work?
  • Have you received any medications or treatments for this condition?
  • What are your relationships with friends and family like?
  • How do you interact with others in your community?
  • Did you have difficulty in school or the workplace?
  • What are some of your daily activities?
  • Have you made any attempts to return to work?
  • What was the result of trying to return to work, if you have?

Your answers should be as accurate and honest as possible. Once the examination is over, the conducting physician must provide a written report to the SSA within 10 days regarding their medical opinion concerning your state of health. Upon receiving this document, it can take between 90 and 120 days after your claim has been filed to determine whether or not your condition warrants SSDI or SSI payments.