What You Need to Know About Social Security Income (AKA Free Money)

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Social Security is most commonly known as an allowance for seniors, but if your mental illness makes it hard for you to keep a job, you may be able to qualify no matter how old you are. There are two different types of Social Security. One is Social Security Income (known as SSI). The other, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), is a program for people who worked for several years and paid into Social Security. It gets automatically taken out of your paycheck if you’re employed “on the books.” If your illness started before your twenty-second birthday, you might be able to qualify for SSDI under your parents.

Both SSI and SSDI are programs run by the Social Security Administration for people who cannot work because of a chronic or fatal illness. Most of the disorders covered in my book—depression, anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, OCD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders—are on that list.

Having a diagnosis isn’t enough to collect a check. A doctor or psychiatrist must verify that you have several symptoms that limit your ability to hold down a job. Typically, you must have had that illness for at least one year and aren’t able to adjust to a new work situation because of your symptoms. For example, you might qualify if you have depression and are currently dealing with at least five symptoms and have difficulty understanding basic information, interacting with others, and trouble concentrating or managing yourself.

You must be between ages eighteen and sixty-five, never married, and a US citizen. Plus, you need to be unemployed or making less than $1,180 each month. Here’s the catch: In 2018, the monthly payment for SSI is $750/month. Most states add on a state supplementary between $10-200/month. It’s better than nothing, but it’s tough to live on $750 each month. To apply, use the online form at Social Security or call 800-772-1213. You have to apply for SSI and SSID and other government benefits like Medicaid and SNAP (aka, food stamps) at the same time. Expect to hand over medical records and information about your employment history and education.