How is functional limitation measured with mental illness?

Mental illness is a common problem, even for Missourians. For those whose cases are of sufficient severity to prevent them from working, it is possible to receive Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits for mental conditions. A key factor in whether an applicant will be approved for SSD benefits is the degree of functional limitation.

This essentially means the limits of how much the person can do while suffering from the mental illness. Knowing how the Social Security Administration assesses these matters is a foundational aspect to a case and getting benefits.

The way functional limitations with mental illness is assessed can be complicated and largely depends on the individual. Multiple issues and all evidence will be considered, so there can be a full analysis of the entire situation. The following will be considered: laboratory tests, clinical assessments, the symptoms and how the person’s ability to function based on such issues as the settings in which the person lives, medication he or she is taking, the chronic nature of the mental disorder and other forms of treatment.

The functional limitation will be rated based on how the person’s impairment hinders their ability to function in an effective, appropriate, independent and sustained manner. If there are episodes, if supervision is needed, how much supervision and when the person can function are all weighed. There are four areas in which the degree of functional limitation is gauged: understanding, remembering or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating, persisting and pacing; and adapting or managing oneself.

There is a five-point scale that is used to rate the limitation: no limitation; mild limitation; moderate limitation; marked limitation; and extreme limitation. If there is extreme limitation, the person will not be deemed able to perform any gainful activity.

Those struggling with mental illness can find it difficult, if not outright impossible to work and perform other basic activities without assistance and treatment. Social Security Disability is available for those who meet the requirements based on several factors, including the degree of functional limitation. When suffering from mental illness, a legal professional experienced in helping clients get Social Security Disability benefits can provide guidance in applying and any other issue that arises.

Source:, “404.1520a. Evaluation of mental impairments. –(c) Rating the degree of functional limitation,” accessed on May 8, 2018

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