It always surprises me when people ask if disability benefits can be claimed on the grounds of depression, and it serves to confirm that mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, are not always given the respect they deserve.  I find myself wanting to reply to the question with a question: “Can disability benefits be claimed on the grounds having both your legs amputated?!”  Needless to say, I usually manage to bite my tongue and respond calmly, “Yes, absolutely.”

Let me make an analogy – getting out of bed in the morning can be just about as difficult for a person with severe depression as standing up is for a person with paraplegia.  I take it further by explaining that severe depression can be mentally paralysing to such an extent that the person requires assistance in all aspects of their life, even attending to their personal hygiene.  I have encountered clients with depression who have volunteered that were it not for their partner or spouse, they would probably not bath or shower for days, even weeks on end.  Not because they are physically unable, but because they have absolutely no interest in doing so.  They see no point.  Likewise, were they not given food to eat, many say they would be at risk starving to death or least suffering severe malnutrition.

I think one of the biggest reasons that many people find illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders difficult to understand is the confusion between the normal range of human emotions and mental illness.  Yes, everyone feels depressed sometimes, and everyone knows what it feels like to be anxious.  However, when experiencing the normal human emotions, there is almost always a trigger – a relationship problem, financial woes, a pending exam, a presentation to senior management, a new job, and the list goes on.  And recovery is spontaneous – once the trigger has been eliminated or the event has passed, the associated emotion subsides.  With major depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder, there is usually no such trigger and recovery does not happen spontaneously.  Let me give you an example:  A 55 year old gentleman, very successfully self-employed, financially secure and happily married.  He develops major depression and attempts to end his life.  Everyone is shocked before he has got everything going for him…how could he possibly be depressed?  And this is the thing…there is no trigger just like there is often no trigger that causes a person to get cancer.

When people can start realizing that depression and anxiety as illnesses are not the same as their own experiences of feeling depressed anxious, there will be a lot more understanding for the sufferers of these illnesses.  And then the stigma will be reduced and the support and accommodation of people with mental illness will increase.  It’s that simple…it’s all about understanding.

So yes, a person can claim disability benefits on the grounds of depression once it has been diagnosed as an illness…just like a person can claim benefits on the grounds of heart disease, kidney failure, cancer, stroke, or any other debilitating medical condition that renders them significantly incapacitated either temporarily or permanently.  Not everyone who is having a bad day or two, or few weeks can claim these benefits on the grounds of depression, but believe me, if you meet someone who has severe depression, you will see the difference.  A psychiatrist will confirm the diagnosis and if necessary, an Occupational Therapist will undertake a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE), which may include recommendations for special / reasonable job accommodations that could allow the person to continue or resume work activities.


Take care everyone.

Your Partner in Mental Health Matters @ Work,


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