OCD As A Disability

Obsessive-compulsive disorder has increased among American adults within the last year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health,¹ 50.6% of adults with OCD suffer long-term severe impairment due to the condition.

For these people, the impact of OCD symptoms on day-to-day life can be debilitating, especially at work. One minute you're in a meeting or handling assignments, and the next, you feel the need to perform compulsions.

Such work-related challenges experienced by OCD patients pose an important question. Is OCD a disability? And, can you receive disability benefits as a result of the condition? Below, we’ll look at the classification of OCD, how to deal with it on the job, and the possible benefits you're entitled to under the law.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is a disability?

The American Disabilities Act² (ADA) defines a disability as any form of physical or mental condition that restricts you from engaging in one or more major life activities and is perceived by others as an impairment. The act protects anyone with disabilities from discrimination and ensures they get access to equal opportunities.

While the ADA isn't specific on the medical conditions that qualify as disabilities, it states that employers with 15 workers or more in the public or private sector must work to accommodate people with disabilities.

Is OCD classified as a disability under the ADA?

Yes, OCD is listed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as a disability that qualifies for Social Security disability benefits. However, just because you have OCD doesn't mean the condition automatically qualifies as a disability, which begs the question. Is OCD a disability?

For your OCD to qualify as a disability, you must provide evidence showing its debilitating effect on your day-to-day life. A diagnosis by a professional doctor is necessary to prove that you have little control over how an unwanted obsession and compulsive behavior affect your ability to work. You must also show that OCD impacts your ability to:

  • Regulate emotions

  • Concentrate on tasks

  • Manage behavior

  • Learn, remember, and understand information or instructions

  • Use socially correct behaviors

  • Adapt to change

  • Care for yourself

Again, it all depends on the severity of your OCD symptoms in day-to-day life. Some people with the condition still lead a healthy life and are employed under normal circumstances, while others are not.

Take, for example, these two scenarios:

Jane, who's lived with OCD since childhood, has been receiving OCD treatment regularly for her condition. As an adult, she goes to therapy and takes medication, which helps her resist compulsive urges, and she is now flourishing in her career.

On the other hand, Ken, who also has OCD, didn't learn to manage OCD or about evidence-based OCD treatment. The symptoms have affected him throughout his lifetime, costing him multiple employment opportunities.

While both have OCD and qualify for disability benefits or assistance, Ken's case is more of a disability than Jane's due to its impact on his life.

Qualifying for disability with OCD

The SSA has a list of conditions published in its Blue Book³ that it approves as mental conditions qualifying for disability benefits. The book also contains the eligibility requirements for any form of disability benefits in America. These include at least two of the following medical findings:

  • Motor tension (severe muscle tension)

  • Autonomic hyperactivity (difficulties breathing, intense sweating, and rapid heart rate)

  • Apprehensive expectations (too much worrying about the future)

  • Vigilance and scanning (easily scared or startled)

  • A consistent, irrational fear of a particular situation, object, or activity, resulting in an irresistible desire to avoid the situation, object, or activity

  • Repetitive chronic panic attacks coming from a sudden onset of intense fear, apprehension, terror, or impending danger that occur on average once a week

  • Repeated obsessions or compulsions, marked distress at least once a week

  • Repeated intrusive memories of traumatic experiences, marked by distress.

Other than that, you must also be able to prove that you suffer from two of the following:

  • Marked issues of daily living activities

  • Considerable problems in social functioning

  • Notable difficulties in concentrating, persisting, or pacing

  • Recurrent episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

When you apply for OCD disability benefits, the SSA checks your condition against its list of requirements to determine if your OCD meets these criteria.

Disability benefits for OCD

If your obsessive-compulsive disorder limits your ability to engage in full-time income-generating activities to a great degree, you may be entitled to social security disability benefits. The incomes received from SSA-run assistance programs are to keep you afloat while you're unable to sustain a full-time paying job. These include:

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI disability benefits require you to have worked enough credits throughout your past work history. For example, if you're 31 years and above, you must have worked for at least five years within the last ten years, whereas anyone below that age must have worked half their years since turning 21 to have sufficient credit for SSDI benefits.

Social Security Insurance (SSI)

SSI benefits are for people who haven't accumulated enough credits to qualify for SSDI benefits. If you have an SSA-approved disability or anxiety disorder, such as OCD, you don't need to have work credit in this need-based program.

However, you must meet certain asset and income thresholds to qualify for SSI benefits. This includes not earning an individual income of more than $710 or $1,060 as a couple per month. Also, your household assets should not exceed $2000 or $3000 for a couple.

The lowdown

If you're confident that your OCD condition meets the requirements for disability, you can apply for Social Security Disability benefits online or in person through your local Social Security office. Make sure to fill each form as requested to detail for better chances of qualification. The more detailed you are, the easier it is for the SSA to know how your disability qualifies for benefits. If you need help coping with OCD, speak to your doctor. There are treatment options available.


What can I do if my disability application is rejected?

If your application is rejected, you can file a disability appeal for your case to be reviewed. At such a point, you may need a social security attorney.

Which accommodations are considered unreasonable?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires all employers to give reasonable accommodations unless it brings undue hardship to the business.

How should you respond if an employer denies your OCD disability claim?

If your employer discriminates against your OCD disability claim, even after presenting evidence for your OCD, you can file a discriminatory claim with the EEOC.

  1. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) | National Institute of Mental Health

  2. Introduction to the ADA | ADA.gov

  3. Social security blue book | Disability Benefits Help

Other sources:

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

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