Is depression a disability? Is depression a disability?

Is Depression a Disability? 20 Symptoms of Depression

Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects more adults than is generally thought to be the case. Often going undiagnosed or mislabeled as lack of responsibility, laziness, or being too sensitive and gloomy1, depression can be a debilitating condition.

If it is left untreated or uncared for, it can continue to fester and affect the person living with it as well as those around them in unpleasant and despairing ways.

So, what exactly is depression, what are its symptoms, and is depression a disability? Read this article to find out the symptoms of depression and what aids and accommodations can people with depression avail.

1. What is Depression?

Is depression a disability?
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Depression or clinical depression2 is a mental health condition that causes chronic sadness or a feeling of melancholia 3in an individual, accompanied by a pronounced indifference towards one’s life and disinterest in daily activities, be it work or play.

The symptoms may vary from person to person; what one person experiences might be different from that of another person.

2. Facts About Depression

Depression directly affects the thought process of a person which in turn, affects every aspect of their life, their actions and reactions.

It is often paired with low self-esteem, lack of appetite, minimal to no personal hygiene, feelings of worthlessness, apathy4, and in extreme cases, thoughts of suicide. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), depression affects approximately 5% of adult people across the globe.

The DSM-5 (Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition) states that if an individual suffers through apparent disinterest, sadness, and lack of pleasure in everyday life for two or more weeks at a time, then it can be classified as a depressive episode.

3. Symptoms of Depression

Weight loss
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Some of the most common symptoms of depression are listed below. However, it is important to know that every individual experience is different and you don’t need to have all of the symptoms all the time.

You can experience a combination of the symptoms mentioned and you may not experience some of these at all. If the symptoms persist for more than two weeks then you might want to check in with your doctor.

1. Lack of appetite

2. Overeating

3. Extreme sadness

4. Feeling hopeless

5. Self-isolation

6. Sudden drop or increase in weight

7. Feeling worthless

8. Low self-esteem

9. Insomnia

10. Sleeping more than usual

11. Feeling exhausted

12. Inability to focus

13. Forgetfulness

14. Anxiety issues

15. My body aches for no apparent reason.

16. Self-harm

17. Compromised hygiene

18. Wanting to disappear

19. Putting oneself in a life-threatening/risky situations

20. Suicidal thoughts

4. Causes of Depression

There can be a plethora of reasons behind depression. Grief due to losing a loved

One, terminal illness5, unmet expectations, losing a job, failing an important exam and the list goes on. However, someone living what may seem like an ideal life may also be experiencing depression due to less apparent but sensitive reasons.

Some of the various factors that might put an individual at risk for depression are mentioned below:

4.1. Social Circumstances

Poverty, stress, violence, work dissatisfaction, unhappy marriages, childhood neglect, and so on can make a person prone to depression.

Our brain is very sensitive and is deeply impacted by daily events and occurrences. If there is a series of unfortunate or unpleasant experiences or an experience of deep loss and grief, it can make a person slip into depression.

4.2. Psychological Reasons

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Our brains are wired differently. In some cases, neurologically diverse people such as people with autism, dyslexia, and so on. Some people who are born with a brain that functions differently, develop depression as a comorbidity because of their experiences of being different from other people since childhood.

This is the case of people who may feel like they do not fit in, or feel excluded and eventually develop depression due to prolonged social isolation. These brain diversities are also genetic.

The Power of Social Connections in Managing Depression

Niloufar Esmaeilpour, an MSc, RCC, SEP from Lotus Therapy & Counselling Centre, discusses strategies for managing depression-related fatigue within relationships:

“Social connections play a crucial role in managing depression, including chronic depression fatigue. They provide emotional support, a sense of belonging, and an external perspective that can be critical for someone struggling with depression.

  • Emotional Support: Friends and family offer a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on. They can provide reassurance, love, and compassion, which are vital for someone feeling isolated due to depression.
  • Perspective and Insight: Social connections can sometimes offer a different perspective on situations, which can be very helpful in breaking negative thought patterns common in depression.
  • Activity and Engagement: Engaging with others can encourage activities that might otherwise be difficult to undertake alone.

This includes social activities, exercise, or simply getting out of the house, all of which can [have a positive impact on] mental health.

  • Reduced Isolation: Depression often leads to isolation. [Having] a network of relationships can counteract this, providing a sense of community and belonging.
  • Practical Help: Sometimes, those with depression need practical help, like assistance with daily tasks, which can be overwhelming during depressive episodes.

In my experience, [both] personally and professionally, the support of relationships is invaluable. [Being able to] talk openly about feelings and struggles without fear of judgment is incredibly important.

Moreover, observing the impact of positive social support on others’ mental health reaffirms the idea that we are social beings, and our connections play a significant role in our overall well-being.”

Niloufar Esmaeilpour
Niloufar Esmaeilpour

5. Is Depression a Disability?

According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), disability is a condition in which the afflicted individual has a physical or mental impairment(s) that makes them unable to carry out day-to-day tasks or enormously affects their daily activities by limiting their capabilities.

As long as a health condition is debilitating and interferes with an individual’s ability to function in daily life activities, it can qualify as a disability.

5.1. Depression as a Disability

Although, unlike other physical and mental health conditions, depression does not occur all the time but rather occurs in episodes over a prolonged period, it does qualify as a disability.

The ADA categorizes depression as a disability because it hampers a person’s ability to function in their everyday life, thus compromising their health, relationships, and work. The ADA also makes some provisions for any depressed individual as long as they fulfill the criteria laid down in the Act. We will discuss this more later.

People with depression struggle to hold a job. Often, they end up getting distant from their friends, family, and relatives, resulting in social isolation and emptiness, which only serves to fuel the depression further.

They are often stuck with a gloomy perception of life, which creates a cycle of negative self-thought and causes a lack of interest in day-to-day life. Due to this indifference or apathy, people end up ignoring their health which ultimately leads to weakness, fatigue, or other physical ailments.

Depression makes it difficult for a person to even get out of bed. Often, people with depression are very often late for work or do not show up at all. This ultimately leads to them getting fired from the job. The amount of financial and social dent created very often by depression in the life of an afflicted individual is substantial.

5.2. ADA Criteria: Depression as a Disability

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To understand whether or not your depression falls into the disability category, the ADA has created three criteria; A, B, and C to determine the extent of impairment. To qualify as a disability, your depression symptoms need to fall into criteria A as well as one other criterion, either B or C.

In Criteria A, the first criterion, you must posit at least five of the following symptoms and must have medical proof of the same. This includes:

1. Gloomy mood

2. Sudden weight fluctuations with appetite changes.

3. Disturbed Sleep

4. Lack of interest in day-to-day life

5. Fatigue6

6. Low self-esteem

7. Lack of focus, inability to concentrate

8. Suicidal thoughts

Criteria B determines whether or not your life is limited by your depressive disorder.                   You need to exhibit at least extreme limitation in one or marked limitation in two of these symptoms:

1. Processing and using information

2. Communicating with other people

3. Concentration, maintaining consistency

4. Making adjustments to one’s surroundings

The third criterion, Criteria C, requires proof of how persistent and prolonged your disorder is over two years.

1. If you have been undergoing psychiatric treatment, psychotherapy, or been using psychosocial services, or been admitted to a psych ward.

2. If you face a severe inability to adjust or adapt to your environment.

Sameera Sullivan, the CEO of Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers, discusses the importance of social support and how understanding different types of depression informs counseling strategies:

“Recognizing the spectrum of depression types is pivotal for effective treatment and support strategies. Each variant demands a nuanced approach, understanding, and tailored interventions.

In my practice, acknowledging these distinctions has allowed for personalized, empathetic assistance. For instance, individuals with bipolar disorder may require distinct coping mechanisms compared to those with persistent depressive disorder.

This awareness [not only] informs the therapeutic landscape [but also] cultivates a more compassionate environment, ensuring that support aligns intricately with the unique contours of each individual’s emotional terrain.”

Sameera Sullivan
Sameera Sullivan

6. Benefits for People with Depression

The ADA grants some benefits to people with major depressive disorders.

1. Social Security Disability Insurance: Social Security Disability Insurance is for those who cannot continue with their work for a minimum of one whole year, but have paid Social Security amount during their last employment. This insurance depends on the amount of Social Security paid while still employed and can vary from person to person. SSDI is a financial aid that is given to people with impairments who can be classified as disabilities in compliance with the guidelines put forth by SSDI.

2. Supplemental Security Income: Supplemental Security Income is another financial aid for people who are disabled and belong to a financially weaker section. It covers the basic amenities of a person with a disability such as the availability of food, clothes, and accommodation, by offering cash. To avail of SSI, one does not have to have paid any Social Security Amount. You can have access to SSI even if you have never held a job.

Revitalizing Mental Health: A Holistic Approach to Overcoming Depression

Amber Young, a Therapist and Owner of Cope & Calm Counseling, discusses the importance of professional intervention and therapy as a preventive measure:

“As you can imagine, depressive episodes skyrocketed during the pandemic, and I found a need to tweak my approach.

Typically, we start by building rapport and exploring basic levels of self-care (hygiene, nutrition, movement, experiencing different environments) [and then] we explore the higher levels of self-care that maintain joyful moments.

Then [using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and a family systems approach], we explore histories that have led to an inner narrative and understanding of themselves in the world and then begin challenging any maladaptive beliefs.

I will utilize Internal Family Systems to help the clients identify their coping or survival habits and practice self-compassion.

To create momentum, I will then take an Acceptance and Commitment view and help the clients explore their values [in order to] ensure that their behaviors [are in alignment] with their goals to ensure a satisfying and fulfilling life.

I find meaning to be a primary antidote to depression. Not to sadness, but true low arousal, high apathy depression.”

Amber Young
Amber Young

7. Final Words

Mental health
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Summing up, we can conclude that depression can become a debilitating disability even with or without treatment. Fortunately, the ADA recognizes the difficulties and struggles involved in living with depression and has made proper arrangements for the people who might be going through it. 

Apart from the benefits made available by the ADA, disabled people are also eligible to ask for accommodations in the workplace, which can help them stay employed while not taking a toll on their mental well-being.

So, yes, depression is a type of disability that can influence the overall mental state of the person, which also leads to physical change. It is important to check on yourself and your loved ones and if you or anyone you know shows signs of depression.

It is necessary to talk about it and get proper help and treatment. Be patient with them because it is not easy for them to survive with such a messed-up mental state. Do not ignore the symptoms as it can be a life-threatening condition. Stay calm and cope with the situation.

Guest Author: Saket Kumar

  1. Edensor, Tim. “Reconnecting with darkness: gloomy landscapes, lightless places.” Social & Cultural Geography 14.4 (2013): 446-465. ↩︎
  2. McLean, Peter D., and A. Ralph Hakstian. “Clinical depression: comparative efficacy of outpatient treatments.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 47.5 (1979): 818. ↩︎
  3. Rado, Sandor. “The problem of melancholia.” The international journal of psycho-analysis 9 (1928): 420. ↩︎
  4. Levy, Morgan L., et al. “Apathy is not depression.” The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences 10.3 (1998): 314-319. ↩︎
  5. Kutner, Jean S., et al. “Information needs in terminal illness.” Social science & medicine 48.10 (1999): 1341-1352. ↩︎
  6. Aaronson, Lauren S., et al. “Defining and measuring fatigue.” Image: the journal of nursing scholarship 31.1 (1999): 45-50. ↩︎

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