Mental impairments and ability to work in North Carolina Social Security disability claims

As experienced Raleigh disability attorneys, we know that many applicants for North Carolina Social Security disability benefits suffer from mental disorders. Some applicants with mental disorders are so severely impaired that they will be found disabled solely on the basis of their medical records and findings.

North Carolina applicants with mental disorders who are not disabled on the basis of medical findings alone will need to show that they cannot do past jobs or other jobs considering their age, education, and experience. This requires a mental residual functional capacity assessment (RFC). Mental RFC is an assessment of the extent to which a mental disorder causes restrictions that may affect the capacity to do work- related activities.

A mental RFC is expressed in terms of whether an applicant can do skilled, semiskilled, or unskilled work in spite of impairments, or whether the applicant cannot do even unskilled work.

Mental disorders and ability to do unskilled work in North Carolina

Most claimants with mental disorders who can do at least unskilled work will be denied North Carolina Social Security disability benefits unless they also have physical impairments that further limit their ability to work. See Physical Limitations and Ability to Work. The reason is that the Social Security Administration can cite many jobs that require only unskilled work. Rare exceptions are claimants with no more than a limited education, who are close to retirement age, and who have a lifelong history of unskilled work that they can no longer perform.

However, claimants with a marked impairment in any of the abilities required for unskilled work will be awarded disability benefits, even without a physical impairment.

Unskilled work is work that needs little or no judgment to do simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period of time. For example, the Social Security Administration considers jobs unskilled if the primary work duties are machine tending (feeding or removing materials from machines that are automatic or operated by others), a person can usually learn to do the job in 30 days, and little specific vocational preparation and judgment are needed.

What constitutes a marked impairment in the abilities for unskilled work

A claimant who cannot do most unskilled sedentary jobs because of a mental disorder will be considered disabled. A claimant will be unable to do most unskilled sedentary jobs if he or she has suffered a substantial loss of ability to meet any one of several basic work-related activities on a sustained basis. A sustained basis means for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule.

These mental activities are generally required by competitive, paid, unskilled work:

  • Understanding, remembering and carrying out simple instructions.
  • Making judgments that are commensurate with the functions of unskilled work, i.e., simple work-related decisions.
  • Responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and usual work situations.
  • Dealing with changes in a routine work setting.

Your testimony about residual functional capacity at your Raleigh North Carolina disability hearing

If you have a mental disorder and your initial application for Social Security disability benefits is denied, your Raleigh disability attorney may decide that your mental RFC was not properly considered. At your disability hearing, your disability attorney or the administrative law judge will need to ask you some questions to help the judge appreciate how restricted your ability to work really is due to your mental problems. Depending on your particular condition, here are some areas the judge or your attorney may explore.

Understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions

Can you:

  • Remember locations and work-like procedures?
  • Understand and remember very short and simple instructions?
  • Carry out very short and simple instructions?
  • Maintain concentration and attention for extended periods (the approximately 2-hour segments between arrival and first break, lunch, second break and departure)?
  • Perform activities within a schedule?
  • Maintain regular attendance?
  • Be punctual within customary tolerances?
  • Sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision?
  • Work in coordination with or proximity to others without being unduly distracted by them?
  • Complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms?
  • Perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods?

Use of judgment

Can you:

  • Make simple work-related decisions?
  • Be aware of normal workplace hazards and take appropriate precautions?

Respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work situations?

Can you:

  • Ask simple questions or request assistance?
  • Accept instructions?
  • Respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors?
  • Get along with coworkers or peers without unduly distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes?

Dealing with changes in a routine work setting

Can you:

  • Respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting?

Raleigh disability attorneys offer assistance with mental disorders

Cases involving mental disorders can be challenging. If you have such a case, you are not already represented by a Raleigh North Carolina disability lawyer, and you want our evaluation, give us a brief description of your claim using the form to the right. Or you may e-mail or call our disability law firm at:

A Social Security Disability Lawyer & Associates
Raleigh North Carolina disability lawyers
Offices in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Dunn & Clinton, North Carolina

Toll-free: Our SSD Phone Number
Email us

Raleigh Office:
Our Raleigh Location
Raleigh, North Carolina 27604
Phone: Our SSD Phone Number
Fax:Our Raleigh Fax Number

Dunn Office:
Our Dunn Location
Dunn, North Carolina 28335
Phone: Our SSD Phone Number
Fax:Our Dunn Fax Number

Fayetteville Office:
Our Fayetteville Location
Suite 102
Fayetteville, North Carolina 2831
Phone: Our SSD Phone Number


We accept SSI and Social Security disability cases at all stages including pre-and post-application, reconsideration, hearing, Appeals Council, and federal court. If you live in North Carolina, please answer the questions below if you would like us to review your case.

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