How Social Security Analyzes Mental Impairments

When evaluating a claim based on mental illness, the Social Security Administration requires a diagnosis of a mental impairment as well as proof of functional impairment which results from the mental impairment.

Functional impairments are divided into four main categories and an individual must demonstrate they suffer from marked impairment in at least two categories to be entitled to benefits.

The categories are:

Understand, remember or apply information. 

This domain refers to the ability to learn, recall and use information to perform work activities.

  • Understanding terms, instructions and procedures.
  • Following one or two step instructions.
  • Describing a work procedure to someone else.
  • Asking and answering questions.
  • Recognizing a mistake and correcting it.
  • Identifying and solving problems.
  • Making judgements on work related decisions.


Interact with others.

Relating to and working with supervisors, co-workers and the public.

  • Cooperating with others.
  • Asking for help when needed.
  • Handling conflicts with others.
  • Stating your own point of view.
  • Initiating or sustaining conversation.
  • Understanding and responding to social cues (physical, verbal).
  • Responding to requests, suggestions, criticism, corrections and challenges.
  • Keeping social interactions free of excessive irritability, sensitivity or suspicion.


Concentrate, persist or maintain pace.

  • The ability to maintain attention on everyday tasks such as household chores or reading.
  • The ability to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruption from psychologically based symptoms.


Adapt or manage oneself.

  • Responding to demands
  • Adapting to changes in the work setting.
  • Managing your psychologically based symptoms.
  • Distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable work performance.
  • Setting realistic goals and making plans for yourself independently.
  • Maintaining personal hygiene and attire appropriate to a work setting.
  • Being aware of normal hazards and and taking appropriate precautions.

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