Does disability insurance cover mental illness?

You can get mental health disability benefits, but your coverage could be limited depending on the insurer.

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Amanda Shih

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius, where she covered life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

&Elissa Suh

Elissa Suh

Senior Editor & Disability Insurance Expert

Elissa Suh is a disability insurance expert and a former senior editor at Policygenius, where she also covered wills, trusts, and advance planning. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, CNBC, PBS, Inverse, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more.

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Maria Filindras is a financial advisor, a licensed Life & Health insurance agent in California, and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius.

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If you have disability insurance, you'll receive monthly payments when you become disabled and can't earn an income. Whether or not you can receive disability benefits for mental illness depends on your insurance company.

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When it comes to buying long-term disability insurance, it's common for people with mental health conditions to face coverage limitations or to pay more for the same coverage offered to someone without mental health issues. But, it depends on the type or severity of your mental illness. Not only can you get disability insurance, in some cases, you may be eligible for full coverage.

Is mental illness a disability?

The ADA considers mental illness to be a disability if it limits one more life of your major life activities. If you have a mental health condition, you are entitled to reasonable accommodations that can help you do your job and are protected from discrimination in the workplace.

The Social Security Administration considers mental illness to be a disability if it is severe (limits you from working for at least a year) and falls under their list of disabling conditions, which includes:

  • Autism spectrum disorder

  • Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • Depressive, bipolar, and related disorders

  • Eating disorders 

  • Intellectual disorder

  • Neurocognitive disorders

  • Neurodevelopmental disorders

  • Personality and impulse-control disorders

  • Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders

  • Somatic symptom and related disorders

  • Trauma- and stressor-related disorders 

Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) is free, but it only offers a limited benefit and can be difficult to qualify for. It is not a replacement for long-term disability insurance. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. All calls are confidential.

Getting disability insurance with a mental illness 

Mental illness may not be covered by disability insurance if it is a pre-existing condition.

When you apply for disability insurance, you must disclose any physical or mental health conditions you have. (If you fail to do so, the insurer can cancel your policy.) When you have mental health conditions, like depression, the insurance company may consider it an exclusion. That means you won’t be able to file a claim for disability benefits related to your mental health. In other cases they may deny you coverage from the start. 

→ Learn more about getting disability insurance with a pre-existing condition

Each insurer uses a different set of underwriting guidelines when determining whether you're eligible for disability coverage. It's up to the insurer to determine how much risk a certain condition poses to you and the likelihood that you'll claim disability benefits because of it.

If one insurance company won't cover you because of your mental health, you may still be able to get coverage from another insurer. A licensed representative at Policygenius can find you a policy with coverage for mental health disability while being sensitive to your individual needs.

Limited mental health disability benefits

Disability benefits can last until you retire, but mental health disability may only pay out up to two years. Insurance companies limit coverage for mental health disabilities by reducing your benefit period, the span of time during which you can receive benefit payments. 

That means you'll no longer be eligible for benefit payments even if you are still unable to work because of your condition after the benefit period is over.

Certain mental illnesses may not be subject to limitations, and you may be able to pay for a rider to remove this limitation.

Short-term disability insurance for mental health

You may have heard that short-term disability insurance doesn't cover mental illness. In fact, it's more accurate to say that whether short-term disability covers mental illness, including depression and anxiety, depends on the insurance company. Group disability insurance may only cover mental health conditions for a limited period of time.

Since it's difficult (and financially unwise) to purchase short-term disability coverage on your own, you're more likely to receive this type of disability insurance from your employer. You can request a copy of your plan document, which includes your policy details, from your benefits administrator to find out if it contains coverage for mental health disability. 

If it does, then you can file a disability claim to receive benefits.

Frequently asked questions

Does disability insurance cover depression and anxiety?

Disability insurance may cover depression and anxiety if your symptoms are so severe that you can't work. However, it depends on your specific policy; some insurers may only pay benefits for a few years for mental health disability.

Does short-term disability cover mental health?

Whether or not mental health conditions, including depression, are covered by short-term disability depends on your insurance company and the details of your plan. Ask your employer for a summary of benefits to learn whether you’re eligible to file a disability claim for mental health.

How much does mental health disability pay?

If you have long-term disability insurance for mental health, it can pay up to 60% of your income. You can also get Social Security disability benefits for mental health; the average SSDI payment was $1,223 in January 2022.

Authors

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

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Amanda Shih is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius, where she covered life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

Senior Editor & Disability Insurance Expert

Elissa Suh

Senior Editor & Disability Insurance Expert

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Elissa Suh is a disability insurance expert and a former senior editor at Policygenius, where she also covered wills, trusts, and advance planning. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, CNBC, PBS, Inverse, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more.

Expert reviewer

Financial Advisor

Maria Filindras

Financial Advisor

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Maria Filindras is a financial advisor, a licensed Life & Health insurance agent in California, and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius.

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