A psychiatric disability exists when a person is mentally impaired by a psychiatric disorder.  Impairment can be partial or total, temporary or permanent, and must be taken in the context of performance of varying types of tasks.  For example, can a job be performed (or performance in a particular occupation)? Carrying out tasks of daily living? The assessment of the psychiatric impairment requires a psychiatric evaluation.  The scope of the psychiatric evaluation is situation-specific.  The assessment of Psychiatric Disability usually requires a review of medical records, face-to-face examination if possible, appropriate psychometric testing, and a review of relevant collateral information, e.g. deposition testimony, investigative reports, interviews with other interested parties.

The context for the Psychiatric Disability assessment is specific to the referral question(s). [1][2]  For example, in the context of holding a job:

  • Ability to work in any occupation.  (With special applications regarding the Defense Base Act, Longshore and Harbor Workers, Railroad Act, Social Security Disability)
  • Ability to work in a specific occupation.  (Disability Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, Fitness for Duty)
  • Ability to work if specified and reasonable accommodations are provided by the employer (Americans with Disabilities Act – ADA).
  • Ability to work after a specific event which allegedly caused the psychiatric disability (Personal Injury, Harassment, Discrimination).

[An aside: In personal injury cases, an event which is alleged to have triggered or exacerbated a mental health condition is clarified by a forensic assessment.  Is a diagnosed psychiatric disorder present, did it preexist or follow an alleged ‘triggering event’, did the event worsen a preexisting illness?  How does a mental health disability affect that person’s post-event life.  A psychiatric condition can be disabling but treatable, or be an issue of damages yet not be a Disability (capital D) as defined under any number of administrative criteria (Social Security Disability Benefits, for example)].

[1] “Practice Guideline The Forensic Evaluation of Psychiatric Disability.”  The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Volume 43, Supplement, Number 2 (2015 Supplement).

[2] Linda Cocchiarella, Andersson, Gunnar B.J.  Guides to the Evaluation of Impairment, Fifth Ed. American Medical Association.  AMA Press. (2006)