Many find financial relief for debilitating mental health problems

Individuals who suffer from mental disabilities or disorders that prevent them from supporting themselves financially should know that there is help available. One option for financial security is applying for government disability benefits. Pittsburgh residents who have submitted a Social Security disability claim have be able to qualify for monthly checks and Medicaid benefits, if they are approved.

To get started, the person who is disabled -- or their appointed advocate -- needs to go to the local Social Security Administration Office.

The application will include naming the impairment, a history of any treatment along with work, educational, medical and family history. The application will be added to a list for reviewers to process. If any further documentation is needed, they will ask for it. Usually, the reviewer will need supporting documents from a doctor or mental health professional that has evaluated or treated the applicant.

If the reviewer feels that there is insufficient evidence on which to base a decision, the application is sent to a Designated Medical Review Team and, often, a Mental Status Examination from a consulting examiner. The applicant will receive a letter informing them that they need to set up an appointment for a standard mental status examination with the consulting examiner.

The examiner will ask the applicant why they believe that they cannot work, as well as gathering the work and treatment history. A bio-psycho-social interview will take place, as well as a formal mental status examination. The applicant will be asked standardized questions designed to assess his or her cognitive abilities, as well as emotional and behavioral state. Cognitive strengths and weaknesses will be noted.

The consulting examiner will report on the applicant's mental status as well as their general demeanor, believability, effort and reaction to the examination. The report will be added to the applicant's case and be evaluated along with their medical history, stressors and overall functioning. They will be placed into one of three categories of disability: mild, moderate or severe.

A team of psychologists and psychiatrists will decide on the applicant's qualifications for disability. The applicant will be notified of their decision and has the option to appeal if they believe they were unfairly denied.

Source:, "Navigating Social Security disability benefits," Len McCulloch, March 18, 2012

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