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SSD and mental disorders: what the statistics say

Many people would say that society is more enlightened now than it was only a generation ago. From greater acceptance of racial diversity to a growing number of states with same-sex marriage laws, the cultural landscape is shifting in ways large and small.

To be sure, society's long-standing bias against mental disorders compared to physical ones is still quite strong. But in terms of Social Security disability (SSD) law, an expanded definition of disability to include mental conditions as well as physical ones is clearly reflected in program statistics.

In this post, we will discuss some of those statistics. In particular, we will take note of the finding that more than 1 in 3 SSD beneficiaries has a condition that is classified as a "mental disorder."

The finding comes from an annual report on the SSD program that includes a profile of benefit recipients. There were more than 10 million people receiving benefits as of the end of 2012.

This number is approximately twice the size of the number of recipients who were receiving Social Security disability benefits at the end of 1995.

As we noted in our December 6 post, however, it is a misconception to think that this expansion came out of the blue. For one thing, Congress itself has expanded the definition of disability to include many mental disorders.

Moreover, population growth and the aging of the Baby Boom generation have driven significant increases in the disability rolls.

Our point is that the statistics on the number of SSD beneficiaries with mental health conditions reflect a reality that once was not acknowledged. Conditions such as depression, autism or PTSD can keep people from working and may make them eligible to apply for SSD.

Source: cnsnews, "35.5% of Disability Beneficiaries Have 'Mental Disorder'; 43.2% in D.C.," Ali Meyer, Jan. 28, 2014

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