Note: We updated this article in March 2022 to reflect the latest SSA policies and data. Recently, a reader wrote in to ask: “Can I claim disability benefits if I was forced to retire due to depression, anxiety and memory problems?” We’ll do our best to answer this question for you. First, we’ll assume that you’re not old enough to draw full Social Security benefits. That means drawing early retirement, which we urge you not to apply for just yet.
What Disability vs. Early Retirement Means for Your Income
If you’re already 62 years old, then yes, you could apply for early retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration. But once you do that, you cannot qualify for Social Security disability. (You can still apply — but there’s zero chance you’ll get approved for disability benefits once you start drawing early retirement.) The bigger concern is how much of your Social Security income you’re giving up for the rest of your life. Let’s say you apply for early retirement at 62. The SSA will reduce your payment 5/9 of one percent for every month prior to your full retirement age. That means your early retirement benefits will be up to 35% lower each month than if you waited until your FRA.
Maybe you’re thinking, Okay, they’re reducing my payments until I reach normal retirement age. Nope! Those early retirement payments stay reduced for the rest of your life. You will never get your full Social Security benefit payment once you start drawing early retirement. But the good news is, disability will pay your full Social Security monthly benefit amount at any age. So, don’t apply for early retirement just yet! Instead, file your claim for Social Security disability benefits. If you cannot get disability, you still have plenty of time to start drawing early retirement.
Why Does Anyone Have to Choose Between Disability or Early Retirement? Or Disability vs. Regular Social Security?
Another thing people may not realize is that disability and regular Social Security are the exact same monthly payments. You cannot draw both, because it’s like asking your boss to cut two paychecks for the same work period. Simply put, disability provides some income if your health forces you to stop working for at least 12 months. But that’s only meant to help you bridge the gap until you can start drawing regular Social Security.
In fact, once your FRA arrives, your disability payments automatically switch over to regular Social Security the following month. You don’t need to fill out any paperwork or forms to make this happen. Your monthly payment amount won’t change, either. However, your deposits may show up on a different day that’s based on your birth month and year. That’s the only difference you may notice after your payments switch from one source to another.
How Hard Is It to Get Disability for Mental Health Issues?
Okay, here’s another thing to think about: Will your mental health issues qualify for disability? The easiest way to double your chances for approval is having a lawyer file your SSD application. Depression, anxiety and memory problems combined may well count as a disability. You’ll have to fill out something called a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Form. This form asks how your mental issues make completing your work tasks hard to impossible. Here are some things to consider before applying for disability:
- Can you remember verbal directions or commands without writing them down? For how long?
- How often does your memory issue negatively impact your ability to work?
- Did you max out your paid time off and then take additional unpaid days for mental health reasons?
- Has your psychiatrist or primary doctor prescribed medication to treat your depression or other symptoms? If yes, are there side effects from medication(s) that negatively impact your work?
- How often do you see a therapist or other healthcare provider? Can the provider treating your depression, memory problems and anxiety write a letter supporting your decision to retire now?
- Do you have a copy of your complete medical records to submit along with your claim? If not, can you pay your doctor for a copy to give to the SSA now?
- How hard is it for you to do basic self-care and daily living tasks without help?
That last question is really important, by the way. If your mental health issues regularly stop you from getting dressed, showering or eating without help, it supports your case.
Related: Do Bipolar & Borderline Personality Disorder Qualify for Disability?
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.