Representing Disabled Clients for Over 25 Years

Social Security Lawyer

Donald H. Peters


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The evaluation of disability on the basis of mental disorders requires documentation of a medically determinable impairment(s), consideration of the degree of limitation such impairment(s) may impose on the individual's ability to work, and consideration of whether these limitations have lasted or are expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. The listings for mental disorders are arranged in nine diagnostic categories: Organic mental disorders (12.02); schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders (12.03); affective disorders (12.04); mental retardation (12.05); anxiety-related disorders (12.06); somatoform disorders (12.07); personality disorders (12.08); substance addiction disorders (12.09); and autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders (12.10). Each listing, except 12.05 and 12.09, consists of a statement describing the disorder(s) addressed by the listing, paragraph A criteria (a set of medical findings), and paragraph B criteria (a set of impairment-related functional limitations). There are additional functional criteria (paragraph C criteria) in 12.02, 12.03, 12.04, and 12.06, discussed herein. We will assess the paragraph B criteria before we apply the paragraph C criteria. We will assess the paragraph C criteria only if we find that the paragraph B criteria are not satisfied. We will find that you have a listed impairment if the diagnostic description in the introductory paragraph and the criteria of both paragraphs A and B (or A and C, when appropriate) of the listed impairment are satisfied. The criteria in paragraph A substantiate medically the presence of a particular mental disorder. Specific symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings in the paragraph A criteria of any of the listings in this section cannot be considered in isolation from the description of the mental disorder contained at the beginning of each listing category. Impairments should be analyzed or reviewed under the mental category(ies) indicated by the medical findings. However, we may also consider mental impairments under physical body system listings, using the concept of medical equivalence, when the mental disorder results in physical dysfunction. (See, for instance, 12.00D12 regarding the evaluation of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders.) The criteria in paragraphs B and C describe impairment-related functional limitations that are incompatible with the ability to do any gainful activity. The functional limitations in paragraphs B and C must be the result of the mental disorder described in the diagnostic description, that is manifested by the medical findings in paragraph A. The structure of the listing for mental retardation (12.05) is different from that of the other mental disorders listings. Listing 12.05 contains an introductory paragraph with the diagnostic description for mental retardation. It also contains four sets of criteria (paragraphs A through D). If your impairment satisfies the diagnostic description in the introductory paragraph and any one of the four sets of criteria, we will find that your impairment meets the listing. Paragraphs A and B contain criteria that describe disorders we consider severe enough to prevent your doing any gainful activity without any additional assessment of functional limitations. For paragraph C, we will assess the degree of functional limitation the additional impairment(s) imposes to determine if it significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, i.e., is a "severe" impairment(s), as defined in §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c). If the additional impairment(s) does not cause limitations that are "severe" as defined in §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c), we will not find that the additional impairment(s) imposes "an additional and significant work-related limitation of function," even if you are unable to do your past work because of the unique features of that work. Paragraph D contains the same functional criteria that are required under paragraph B of the other mental disorders listings. The structure of the listing for substance addiction disorders, 12.09, is also different from that for the other mental disorder listings. Listing 12.09 is structured as a reference listing; that is, it will only serve to indicate which of the other listed mental or physical impairments must be used to evaluate the behavioral or physical changes resulting from regular use of addictive substances. The listings are so constructed that an individual with an impairment(s) that meets or is equivalent in severity to the criteria of a listing could not reasonably be expected to do any gainful activity. These listings are only examples of common mental disorders that are considered severe enough to prevent an individual from doing any gainful activity. When you have a medically determinable severe mental impairment that does not satisfy the diagnostic description or the requirements of the paragraph A criteria of the relevant listing, the assessment of the paragraph B and C criteria is critical to a determination of equivalence. If your impairment(s) does not meet or is not equivalent in severity to the criteria of any listing, you may or may not have the residual functional capacity (RFC) to do substantial gainful activity (SGA). The determination of mental RFC is crucial to the evaluation of your capacity to do SGA when your impairment(s) does not meet or equal the criteria of the listings, but is nevertheless severe. RFC is a multidimensional description of the work-related abilities you retain in spite of your medical impairments. An assessment of your RFC complements the functional evaluation necessary for paragraphs B and C of the listings by requiring consideration of an expanded list of work-related capacities that may be affected by mental disorders when your impairment(s) is severe but neither meets nor is equivalent in severity to a listed mental disorder.

Need for medical evidence

We must establish the existence of a medically determinable impairment(s) of the required duration by medical evidence consisting of symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings (including psychological test findings). Symptoms are your own description of your physical or mental impairment(s). Psychiatric signs are medically demonstrable phenomena that indicate specific psychological abnormalities, e.g., abnormalities of behavior, mood, thought, memory, orientation, development, or perception, as described by an appropriate medical source. Symptoms and signs generally cluster together to constitute recognizable mental disorders described in the listings. The symptoms and signs may be intermittent or continuous depending on the nature of the disorder.

Assessment of severity

We measure severity according to the functional limitations imposed by your medically determinable mental impairment(s). We assess functional limitations using the four criteria in paragraph B of the listings: Activities of daily living; social functioning; concentration, persistence, or pace; and episodes of decompensation.

Where we use "marked" as a standard for measuring the degree of limitation, it means more than moderate but less than extreme. A marked limitation may arise when several activities or functions are impaired, or even when only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is such as to interfere seriously with your ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis. See §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a.

  1. Activities of daily living include adaptive activities such as cleaning, shopping, cooking, taking public transportation, paying bills, maintaining a residence, caring appropriately for your grooming and hygiene, using telephones and directories, and using a post office. In the context of your overall situation, we assess the quality of these activities by their independence, appropriateness, effectiveness, and sustainability. We will determine the extent to which you are capable of initiating and participating in activities independent of supervision or direction. We do not define "marked" by a specific number of activities of daily living in which functioning is impaired, but by the nature and overall degree of interference with function. For example, if you do a wide range of activities of daily living, we may still find that you have a marked limitation in your daily activities if you have serious difficulty performing them without direct supervision, or in a suitable manner, or on a consistent, useful, routine basis, or without undue interruptions or distractions.
  2. Social functioning refers to your capacity to interact independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis with other individuals. Social functioning includes the ability to get along with others, such as family members, friends, neighbors, grocery clerks, landlords, or bus drivers. You may demonstrate impaired social functioning by, for example, a history of altercations, evictions, firings, fear of strangers, avoidance of interpersonal relationships, or social isolation. You may exhibit strength in social functioning by such things as your ability to initiate social contacts with others, communicate clearly with others, or interact and actively participate in group activities. We also need to consider cooperative behaviors, consideration for others, awareness of others' feelings, and social maturity. Social functioning in work situations may involve interactions with the public, responding appropriately to persons in authority (e.g., supervisors), or cooperative behaviors involving coworkers. We do not define "marked" by a specific number of different behaviors in which social functioning is impaired, but by the nature and overall degree of interference with function. For example, if you are highly antagonistic, uncooperative, or hostile but are tolerated by local storekeepers, we may nevertheless find that you have a marked limitation in social functioning because that behavior is not acceptable in other social contexts.
  3. Concentration, persistence or pace refers to the ability to sustain focused attention and concentration sufficiently long to permit the timely and appropriate completion of tasks commonly found in work settings. Limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace are best observed in work settings, but may also be reflected by limitations in other settings. In addition, major limitations in this area can often be assessed through clinical examination or psychological testing. Wherever possible, however, a mental status examination or psychological test data should be supplemented by other available evidence. On mental status examinations, concentration is assessed by tasks such as having you subtract serial sevens or serial threes from 100. In psychological tests of intelligence or memory, concentration is assessed through tasks requiring short-term memory or through tasks that must be completed within established time limits. In work evaluations, concentration, persistence, or pace is assessed by testing your ability to sustain work using appropriate production standards, in either real or simulated work tasks (e.g., filing index cards, locating telephone numbers, or disassembling and reassembling objects). Strengths and weaknesses in areas of concentration and attention can be discussed in terms of your ability to work at a consistent pace for acceptable periods of time and until a task is completed, and your ability to repeat sequences of action to achieve a goal or an objective. We must exercise great care in reaching conclusions about your ability or inability to complete tasks under the stresses of employment during a normal workday or workweek based on a time-limited mental status examination or psychological testing by a clinician, or based on your ability to complete tasks in other settings that are less demanding, highly structured, or more supportive. We must assess your ability to complete tasks by evaluating all the evidence, with an emphasis on how independently, appropriately, and effectively you are able to complete tasks on a sustained basis. We do not define "marked" by a specific number of tasks that you are unable to complete, but by the nature and overall degree of interference with function. You may be able to sustain attention and persist at simple tasks but may still have difficulty with complicated tasks. Deficiencies that are apparent only in performing complex procedures or tasks would not satisfy the intent of this paragraph B criterion. However, if you can complete many simple tasks, we may nevertheless find that you have a marked limitation in concentration, persistence, or pace if you cannot complete these tasks without extra supervision or assistance, or in accordance with quality and accuracy standards, or at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods, or without undue interruptions or distractions.
  4. Episodes of decompensation are exacerbations or temporary increases in symptoms or signs accompanied by a loss of adaptive functioning, as manifested by difficulties in performing activities of daily living, maintaining social relationships, or maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. Episodes of decompensation may be demonstrated by an exacerbation in symptoms or signs that would ordinarily require increased treatment or a less stressful situation (or a combination of the two). Episodes of decompensation may be inferred from medical records showing significant alteration in medication; or documentation of the need for a more structured psychological support system (e.g., hospitalizations, placement in a halfway house, or a highly structured and directing household); or other relevant information in the record about the existence, severity, and duration of the episode. The term repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration in these listings means three episodes within 1 year, or an average of once every 4 months, each lasting for at least 2 weeks. If you have experienced more frequent episodes of shorter duration or less frequent episodes of longer duration, we must use judgment to determine if the duration and functional effects of the episodes are of equal severity and may be used to substitute for the listed finding in a determination of equivalence.


The evaluation of disability on the basis of a mental disorder requires sufficient evidence to (1) establish the presence of a medically determinable mental impairment(s), (2) assess the degree of functional limitation the impairment(s) imposes, and (3) project the probable duration of the impairment(s). See §§ 404.1512 and 416.912 for a discussion of what we mean by "evidence" and how we will assist you in developing your claim. Medical evidence must be sufficiently complete and detailed as to symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings to permit an independent determination. In addition, we will consider information from other sources when we determine how the established impairment(s) affects your ability to function. We will consider all relevant evidence in your case record.

  1. Sources of evidence.
    1. Medical evidence. There must be evidence from an acceptable medical source showing that you have a medically determinable mental impairment. See §§ 404.1508, 404.1513, 416.908, and 416.913. We will make every reasonable effort to obtain all relevant and available medical evidence about your mental impairment(s), including its history, and any records of mental status examination, psychological testing, and hospitalizations and treatment. Whenever possible, and appropriate, medical source evidence should reflect the medical source's considerations of information from you and other concerned persons who are aware of your activities of daily living; social functioning; concentration, persistence, or pace; or episodes of decompensation. Also, in accordance with standard clinical practice, any medical source assessment of your mental functioning should take into account any sensory, motor, or communication abnormalities, as well as your cultural and ethnic background.
    2. Information from the individual. Individuals with mental impairments can often provide accurate descriptions of their limitations. The presence of a mental impairment does not automatically rule you out as a reliable source of information about your own functional limitations. When you have a mental impairment and are willing and able to describe your limitations, we will try to obtain such information from you. However, you may not be willing or able to fully or accurately describe the limitations resulting from your impairment(s). Thus, we will carefully examine the statements you provide to determine if they are consistent with the information about, or general pattern of, the impairment as described by the medical and other evidence, and to determine whether additional information about your functioning is needed from you or other sources.
    3. Other information. Other professional health care providers (e.g., psychiatric nurse, psychiatric social worker) can normally provide valuable functional information, which should be obtained when available and needed. If necessary, information should also be obtained from nonmedical sources, such as family members and others who know you, to supplement the record of your functioning in order to establish the consistency of the medical evidence and longitudinality of impairment severity, as discussed in 12.00D2. Other sources of information about functioning include, but are not limited to, records from work evaluations and rehabilitation progress notes.
  2. Need for longitudinal evidence. Your level of functioning may vary considerably over time. The level of your functioning at a specific time may seem relatively adequate or, conversely, rather poor. Proper evaluation of your impairment(s) must take into account any variations in the level of your functioning in arriving at a determination of severity over time. Thus, it is vital to obtain evidence from relevant sources over a sufficiently long period prior to the date of adjudication to establish your impairment severity.
  3. Work attempts. You may have attempted to work or may actually have worked during the period of time pertinent to the determination of disability. This may have been an independent attempt at work or it may have been in conjunction with a community mental health or sheltered program, and it may have been of either short or long duration. Information concerning your behavior during any attempt to work and the circumstances surrounding termination of your work effort are particularly useful in determining your ability or inability to function in a work setting. In addition, we should also examine the degree to which you require special supports (such as those provided through supported employment or transitional employment programs) in order to work.
  4. Mental status examination. The mental status examination is performed in the course of a clinical interview and is often partly assessed while the history is being obtained. A comprehensive mental status examination generally includes a narrative description of your appearance, behavior, and speech; thought process (e.g., loosening of associations); thought content (e.g., delusions); perceptual abnormalities (e.g., hallucinations); mood and affect (e.g., depression, mania); sensorium and cognition (e.g., orientation, recall, memory, concentration, fund of information, and intelligence); and judgment and insight. The individual case facts determine the specific areas of mental status that need to be emphasized during the examination.
  5. Psychological testing.
    1. Reference to a "standardized psychological test" indicates the use of a psychological test measure that has appropriate validity, reliability, and norms, and is individually administered by a qualified specialist. By "qualified," we mean the specialist must be currently licensed or certified in the State to administer, score, and interpret psychological tests and have the training and experience to perform the test.
    2. Psychological tests are best considered as standardized sets of tasks or questions designed to elicit a range of responses. Psychological testing can also provide other useful data, such as the specialist's observations regarding your ability to sustain attention and concentration, relate appropriately to the specialist, and perform tasks independently (without prompts or reminders). Therefore, a report of test results should include both the objective data and any clinical observations.
    3. The salient characteristics of a good test are: (1) Validity, i.e., the test measures what it is supposed to measure; (2) reliability, i.e., the consistency of results obtained over time with the same test and the same individual; (3) appropriate normative data, i.e., individual test scores can be compared to test data from other individuals or groups of a similar nature, representative of that population; and (4) wide scope of measurement, i.e., the test should measure a broad range of facets/aspects of the domain being assessed. In considering the validity of a test result, we should note and resolve any discrepancies between formal test results and the individual's customary behavior and daily activities.
  6. Intelligence tests.
    1. The results of standardized intelligence tests may provide data that help verify the presence of mental retardation or organic mental disorder, as well as the extent of any compromise in cognitive functioning. However, since the results of intelligence tests are only part of the overall assessment, the narrative report that accompanies the test results should comment on whether the IQ scores are considered valid and consistent with the developmental history and the degree of functional limitation.
    2. Standardized intelligence test results are essential to the adjudication of all cases of mental retardation that are not covered under the provisions of 12.05A. Listing 12.05A may be the basis for adjudicating cases where the results of standardized intelligence tests are unavailable, e.g., where your condition precludes formal standardized testing.
    3. Due to such factors as differing means and standard deviations, identical IQ scores obtained from different tests do not always reflect a similar degree of intellectual functioning. The IQ scores in 12.05 reflect values from tests of general intelligence that have a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15; e.g., the Wechsler series. IQs obtained from standardized tests that deviate from a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15 require conversion to a percentile rank so that we can determine the actual degree of limitation reflected by the IQ scores. In cases where more than one IQ is customarily derived from the test administered, e.g., where verbal, performance, and full scale IQs are provided in the Wechsler series, we use the lowest of these in conjunction with 12.05.
    4. Generally, it is preferable to use IQ measures that are wide in scope and include items that test both verbal and performance abilities. However, in special circumstances, such as the assessment of individuals with sensory, motor, or communication abnormalities, or those whose culture and background are not principally English-speaking, measures such as the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence, Third Edition (TONI-3), Leiter International Performance Scale-Revised (Leiter-R), or Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Third Edition (PPVT-III) may be used.
    5. We may consider exceptions to formal standardized psychological testing when an individual qualified by training and experience to perform such an evaluation is not available, or in cases where appropriate standardized measures for your social, linguistic, and cultural background are not available. In these cases, the best indicator of severity is often the level of adaptive functioning and how you perform activities of daily living and social functioning.
  7. Personality measures and projective testing techniques. Results from standardized personality measures, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-Revised (MMPI-II), or from projective types of techniques, such as the Rorschach and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), may provide useful data for evaluating several types of mental disorders. Such test results may be useful for disability evaluation when corroborated by other evidence, including results from other psychological tests and information obtained in the course of the clinical evaluation, from treating and other medical sources, other professional health care providers, and nonmedical sources. Any inconsistency between test results and clinical history and observation should be explained in the narrative description.
  8. Neuropsychological assessments. Comprehensive neuropsychological examinations may be used to establish the existence and extent of compromise of brain function, particularly in cases involving organic mental disorders. Normally, these examinations include assessment of cerebral dominance, basic sensation and perception, motor speed and coordination, attention and concentration, visual-motor function, memory across verbal and visual modalities, receptive and expressive speech, higher-order linguistic operations, problem-solving, abstraction ability, and general intelligence. In addition, there should be a clinical interview geared toward evaluating pathological features known to occur frequently in neurological disease and trauma; e.g., emotional lability, abnormality of mood, impaired impulse control, passivity and apathy, or inappropriate social behavior. The specialist performing the examination may administer one of the commercially available comprehensive neuropsychological batteries, such as the Luria-Nebraska or the Halstead-Reitan, or a battery of tests selected as relevant to the suspected brain dysfunction. The specialist performing the examination must be properly trained in this area of neuroscience.
  9. Screening tests. In conjunction with clinical examinations, sources may report the results of screening tests; i.e., tests used for gross determination of level of functioning. Screening instruments may be useful in uncovering potentially serious impairments, but often must be supplemented by other data. However, in some cases the results of screening tests may show such obvious abnormalities that further testing will clearly be unnecessary.
  10. Traumatic brain injury (TBI). In cases involving TBI, follow the documentation and evaluation guidelines in 11.00F.
  11. Anxiety disorders. In cases involving agoraphobia and other phobic disorders, panic disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorders, documentation of the anxiety reaction is essential. At least one detailed description of your typical reaction is required. The description should include the nature, frequency, and duration of any panic attacks or other reactions, the precipitating and exacerbating factors, and the functional effects. If the description is provided by a medical source, the reporting physician or psychologist should indicate the extent to which the description reflects his or her own observations and the source of any ancillary information. Statements of other persons who have observed you may be used for this description if professional observation is not available.
  12. Eating disorders. In cases involving anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders, the primary manifestations may be mental or physical, depending upon the nature and extent of the disorder. When the primary functional limitation is physical; e.g., when severe weight loss and associated clinical findings are the chief cause of inability to work, we may evaluate the impairment under the appropriate physical body system listing. Of course, we must also consider any mental aspects of the impairment, unless we can make a fully favorable determination or decision based on the physical impairment(s) alone.

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Call Social Security Professionals now to discuss your claim for free

You need no money to hire Attorney Donald H. Peters

(248) 549-3485

Southfield Lawyer Donald Peters of the Law Office of Donald H. Peters, P.C. in Southfield, Michigan, handles Social Security Disability claims throughout Michigan and in the Tri-County Metro Detroit area including Detroit, Southfield, Novi, Warren, Royal Oak, Roseville, Livonia, Mount Clemens, Sterling Heights, Farmington Hills, Birmingham, Berkley, Oak Park, West Bloomfield, Ann Arbor, Eastpointe, Waterford, Flint, Canton, Taylor, Romulus, Westland, Clinton Township, Troy, Dearborn, Brighton, Howell, Pontiac, Rochester Hills,  as well as Wayne County, Oakland County, Macomb County, Ingham County, and Livingston County, Michigan.


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