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Can I Get Disability for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Updated by Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

Winter can be a wonderful time of the year. It also involves short daylight hours, long nights, little sunlight, and a lot of cold. While all of us experience the winter blues from time to time, sufferers of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may especially dread winter months, when difficulty waking up, lack of energy, and dietary symptoms make winter anything but a wonderland.

SAD is a recognized mental health condition most commonly diagnosed in young women living far north or south of the equator. There is no clear cause of SAD, but it's thought to be related to the lack of sunlight and perhaps a lack of melatonin. Treatment may include light therapy, antidepressant medication, vitamin d supplements, and cognitive behavioral therapy or other psychotherapy. But as with any mental illness it is important to seek help from licensed medical providers to understand the possible best treatments for you.

The symptoms of SAD can make work difficult or even impossible. But does that mean you can get disability benefits for seasonal affective disorder?

SAD But True

Despite initial skepticism that SAD was a legitimate condition, the American Psychiatric Association has recognized SAD as a form of depression. SAD is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a recurrent major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. It typically flares up in late fall and during the winter months.

Federal courts have held that employees suffering from seasonal affective disorder are entitled to reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).In one case, for example, an elementary school teacher began suffering from SAD symptoms. She requested a move from her windowless classroom. Her principal refused, and she sued the school district for failing to make a reasonable accommodation for her disability. A jury found in the teacher's favor, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict. But while employers may need to make accommodations for employees with seasonal affective disorders, that does not mean employees are necessarily entitled to disability benefits.

SAD Disability Benefits

There are two types of disability insurance: private and government-funded. If you are seeking disability from the government, you'll need to file a claim with the Social Security Administration. The SSA doesn't list specific disorders that are eligible for disability, but base eligibility for disability benefits is determined by your specific level of impairment and whether the impairment substantially limits obtaining, performing, or keeping a job. This is determined on a case-by-case basis. The Social Security Administration will want proof that your case of SAD involves an inability to:

  • Understand, remember, or apply information.
  • Interact with others
  • Concentrate
  • Adapt or manage day-to-day activities.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of SAD include mood changes, feeling listless, and difficulty concentrating, among others. This means your seasonal affective disorder symptoms may or may not include the above conditions. Like other mood disorders, SAD can also vary in severity.

You may also have short-term or long-term disability benefits from a private insurance company. Often, these plans are a part of your work benefits. It's possible that a private disability insurance plan could cover SAD, so you should file a claim with your disability insurer. Because SAD is seasonal, unlike other types of depression, short-term disability benefits may be the first option to pursue. Unfortunately, the law about insurance coverage for short-term and long-term disability can be complicated. And while applying for disability benefits from the SSA is relatively straightforward, it is not at all a guarantee that you will get them even if your seasonal affective disorder is severe. If you need help filing a disability claim, or if your disability claim has been denied, you may want to talk to an experienced disability attorney.

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