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Severe depression or anxiety is often a component of a Social Security disability claim. For claims involving mental health, the Global Assessment of Functioning score assessed by your mental health provider can provide a convenient benchmark for the administrative law judge.

The GAF scale is Axis V of the multiaxial assessment used by mental health clinicians. The GAF score offers a snapshot of a patient's functioning at that time. Although the GAF score does not correlate directly to the severity requirements Social Security's mental disorders listings, it still offers a convenient distillation of a clinician's progress notes.

In general, for claimants who have primarily mental impairments, I like to see a GAF score below 50. When a GAF score is in the range of 35-45, I always point it out to the judge in my hearing memorandum. For example, if the treating psychologist assessed a GAF score of 45, I note that a score from 41-50 equates with "Serious symptoms OR any serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning." In such a case, the GAF score provides compelling, contemporaneous evidence of the severity of a claimant's mental health problems.

A GAF score of 55, on the other hand, doesn't help that much. A score from 51-60 corresponds with "Moderate symptoms OR any moderate difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning." Moderate symptoms do not make for a successful Social Security disability claim. In such cases, I highlight the other evidence in the record that better demontrates the severity of the claimant's impairments.

A GAF score of 65, which I see from time to time, is actually evidence that your mental health is not dramatically affecting your occupational functioning. Mild symptoms and some difficulty in social or occupational functioning are not likely to result in a favorable disability determination, without other medical evidence of severe work-related limitations.

Go to the Claimants with Mental Impairments page to learn about the issues involved with Social Security disability claims involving depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

If you are wondering if your mental health condition is severe enough to receive disability benefits (and you live in Maine or New Hampshire), ask for a free Social Security claim evaluation.