Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) | NAMI

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) And Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Where We Stand

NAMI believes that all people with mental health conditions deserve access to supports that promote wellness. NAMI supports public policies and laws that reduce barriers to, and ensure continuity of, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for people with severe mental health conditions.

Why We Care

For some people, a severe mental health condition may prevent them from getting or maintaining regular employment. For these individuals, SSDI and SSI provide needed financial assistance for basic living expenses, such as food, housing, and health care.

SSDI provides monthly income to individuals who are limited in their ability to work because of a physical or mental disability and have contributed Social Security tax contributions through prior work. As of 2019, over 2 million people received SSDI benefits due to a mood, psychiatric, or other mental disability, amounting to one in five SSDI beneficiaries. SSI is a need-based program that provides financial assistance to individuals with disabilities and low incomes. Eligibility requires a disability determination and financial need determined by income and current assets. Currently, about eight million individuals rely on SSI benefits, including many people with severe mental health conditions.

Both programs are run by the U.S. Social Security Administration and help ensure a minimum income for people with disabling mental illness. Proposals to change SSI and SSDI have included increasing paperwork requirements and the frequency of disability reviews. These threats could have serious repercussions for the health and well-being of people with mental illness, and may lead to further instability like homelessness, hospitalization, bankruptcy, or incarceration.

How We Talk About It

  • Mental illness affects one in five U.S. adults, and one in 20 adults has a serious mental illness. For many individuals, their symptoms, and the unpredictability of those symptoms, can interfere with getting or keeping employment.
  • Without regular, competitive employment, people with severe mental health conditions frequently experience poverty and housing instability.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provide monthly income to qualifying Americans of all ages with mental illness who need financial support.
  • This critical financial assistance can help a person to pay for rent or food — fundamental needs that must be met. When they are not, it is hard — if not impossible — for a person to get on a path of mental wellness.
  • However, qualifying for SSDI and SSI benefits is difficult, as there are challenging disability eligibility criteria, regular review periods, daunting paperwork and asset limits (for SSI).
  • Even when approved for these programs, many people with severe symptoms of a mental illness find it difficult to complete ongoing paperwork requirements and reviews.
  • NAMI opposes unnecessary changes to the SSDI and SSI programs, including more frequent reviews of disability status, which are already burdensome and stressful for people with mental illness, their families and the service providers who assist them.
  • NAMI strongly supports policies that decrease barriers to — and improve continuity of — life-saving SSDI and SSI benefits for people with severe mental health conditions whose symptoms prevent regular, on-going employment.

What We’ve Done

  • NAMI resources on how to apply for SSI and SSDI
  • NAMI letter to the Hill regarding continuing disability reviews (CDRs)
  • NAMI comments to the Social Security Administration regarding Social Security disability benefit overpayments during the pandemic

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).