Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can be so disruptive to a person’s life that it becomes impossible to work. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by repeated unwanted thoughts that compel a person to try to relieve them by perform repetitive tasks or rituals, such as constantly checking or counting things or cleaning. Attempts to resist these obsessive, compulsive urges may lead to anxiety. The repetitive, involuntary thoughts are often about contamination by germs, violence, sex, or religion. For instance, someone who is obsessed with contamination and fear of germs may have the compulsion to wash their hands repeatedly to prevent infection. Not all patients with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions.
Most people with OCD develop it by age 30. About 20% of people who have OCD also have nervous tics, involuntary muscle contractions such as blinking or grimacing.
If your obsessive compulsive disorder is so severe that you can’t work any type of job, you may be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits based on OCD if your condition is well documented and severely debilitating and if it affects your ability to function socially, concentrate, or manage the tasks of daily living.
To qualify for benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that the obsessions or compulsions caused by your OCD, even with treatment, are recurrent and cause “marked distress,” which the SSA defines as near-extreme anxiety or near-extreme emotional disturbance, not merely moderate discomfort.
The SSA also requires that your OCD cause any two of the four of the following problems (note that “marked” is in between extreme and moderate):
Alternatively, if your OCD result in your complete inability to function independently outside the area of your home (as with extreme agoraphobia combined with OCD), you could qualify for disability benefits without having to prove you have two of the above four problems.
If you don’t qualify under the SSA’s requirements above, as part of the disability determination process, the SSA will consider your OCD symptoms and your resulting impairment to see to what extent your ability to do the usual activities of daily living are impaired, and if there is any kind of work you can be expected to do. The SSA will give you a rating of the type of work it thinks you can do (skilled work, semi-skilled work, unskilled work, or less than unskilled work). This is called your residual functional capacity (RFC), and in the case of OCD, it’s called a mental RFC rather than a physical RFC.
If the SSA finds you can do any type of work, skilled or unskilled (which is likely unless you meet the requirements above), you won’t be granted disability benefits. However, if you also have any type of physical impairment, you might be able to qualify for disability benefits under what’s called a “medical-vocational allowance.”
You’ll need to present to the SSA a comprehensive report from your psychiatrist and a well-documented psychiatric medical record showing the history of your OCD. Your record should include all treatments tried, include the types of medication and therapy, and the efficacy and side effects of each treatment. Your doctor should include detailed information on how your OCD affects your daily activities and your ability to work. If your psychiatrist has given you a diagnostic questionnaire, such as the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (YBOCS), this can help show the SSA the severity of your OCD.
Call the SSA at 800-772-1213 to set up an appointment to fill out an application for SSI and/or SSDI disability. When you fill out your application, include a detailed description of how your OCD affects your behavior; how it affects your ability to concentrate and complete tasks quickly, follow directions, and function; how it affects your social functioning; and how often you have episodes of worsening symptoms. If you have both OCD and a physical impairment that makes it impossible for you to work, consider hiring a disability lawyer to help you file your Social Security claim, or if your initial claim gets denied, to file an appeal with the SSA.