The psychological assessment can be a stressful part of your disability application, but with preparation, it doesn’t have to be.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that less than 22% of people living with a disability are employed. Instead, many apply for disability payments through the Social Security Administration (SSA), which offers two programs to help provide supplemental income to people with disabilities who cannot work.

If you live with a disability and plan to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you may have to undergo a psychological assessment as part of the application process.

But what exactly does this assessment include, and why is it required? This article will answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the disability psychological assessment, including what to expect and how to prepare for it.

When you apply for SSDI with a mental health disability, your application requires a psychological assessment by a psychological consultant (PC). A PC is a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist who reviews and verifies your mental health history to determine whether you are eligible for benefits.

According to the SSA, the role of a PC in your application process is to:

  • work with the disability examiner (DE), and if needed, a medical consultant, to review your application
  • evaluate the evidence in your application and determine whether they need more testing or information
  • determine whether your mental health condition meets the qualifications listed under the SSA’s listing of impairments

During the psychological assessment, the PC may perform a series of tests, examinations, and assessments to determine whether your disability meets the qualifications under SSDI.

Although the examination can vary from expert to expert, you’ll likely be tested on your:

  • level of cognition
  • visual and motor skills
  • emotional status
  • behavior and personality

The PC will also review your educational, occupational, and psychological background, as well as information from other sources, like interviews with family or healthcare professionals. They might also choose to observe your behavior over a period of time as part of your assessment.

Applying for SSDI can be stressful, but you can take a few steps to make the process ― including any medical or psychological assessments ― a little easier on yourself.

1. Fill out all the necessary paperwork ahead of time

When you initially apply for SSA benefits, there’s a significant amount of paperwork and documentation you’ll need to provide. By preparing your paperwork ahead of time, you can avoid scrambling for documents as your assessment date approaches.

2. Write down as much information on your history as possible

It can sometimes be difficult to describe what it’s like to live with a mental health condition, but these are the exact details that the SSA wants to know. You should be prepared to answer all questions about your disability, including your work history, your doctor’s visits, your medication use, and its overall effect on your life.

If you work with a therapist or other mental health professional regularly, you can ask them to help you create this record.

3. Make sure that you have access to your medical records

If you don’t provide the Disability Determination Services with the right medical documentation, the agency can potentially hold up your application for months. So be sure to have access to any and all medical documentation that you need when you apply ― especially if it relates to your mental health.

In order to qualify for disability benefits, you must have a physical or mental disability (or in some cases, both) and must not be engaged in what the SSA calls substantial gainful activity (SGA) ― or, in other words, employment.

If your income is over the disability limits, which vary based on disability, it is considered being engaged in SGA, and you will not qualify for disability.

Even if you are approved for SSDI initially, there are two changes that can disqualify you:

  1. If your disability improves to the point that you’re able to return to work, you will no longer qualify for SSDI.
  2. If you choose to try a 9-month trial work period and realize that you can continue working after the trial period, your benefits will be suspended.

Once you inform the SSA that you plan to apply for disability benefits, you will receive a protective filing date, which is a 60-day period that you have to submit your initial application.

After you’ve submitted your initial application for SSDI, the SSA states that it usually takes anywhere from 3 to 5 months to receive a determination.

However, if you have certain impairments or submit an application with incomplete documents, the waiting period can be much longer. In fact, for people who have been denied and want to appeal, it can sometimes take years to be approved for SSDI.

Millions of people in the United States live with a disability. For most of them, their disability makes it difficult ― or even impossible ― to work. The SSA’s disability programs exist to offer financial assistance to people living with disabilities so that they can continue to support themselves and their families.

If you or a loved one has recently applied for SSDI, preparing as much as you can for your interviews and assessments ahead of time can help make the process easier. Also, make sure to let any healthcare professional you work with that you’re applying so they can help you access all the documentation you need.

If you have any more questions about the application process, including your psychological assessment, don’t hesitate to reach out to your DE for more information.