Disability for depression (A guide)


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Page last updated: 21/10/2022

In this guide, we will discuss the topic of Disability for depression.

We will mention some key facts from the WHO, symptoms, and types of depression, What are the eligibility criteria for ESA, and some additional considerations when applying for disability benefits.

Disability for depression

Disability for depression can be a sensitive topic to talk about in the UK and can make you feel worried not knowing about the benefits you may be eligible for, how to claim, or how to prove you are genuinely depressed to be entitled to such benefits.

According to citizensadvice.org.uk, “A disability is a physical or mental condition which has a long-term and substantial effect on your daily life.”

However, let’s consider what being depressed really means.

Many people believe that feeling sad, ‘blue’, or discouraged automatically means being depressed but as Karla Thompson, Ph.D. from the North Carolina Office on Disability and Health indicates, “It is an illness

that affects the whole person – their thoughts, feelings, behavior, and physical health.

In its mildest form, depression can keep otherwise healthy individuals from enjoying their lives to the fullest.”

When does depression becomes a disability, you may be wondering, especially if you are an employee wanting to be recognized as disabled due to depression.

Well, as indicated by Sara Gilzean from Moron Fraser LLP “In order to qualify as a disability, the impairment must have a substantial adverse effect on the employee’s ability to carry out day to day activities. The impact cannot, therefore, be trivial.”

Subsequently, it is important to determine if you are clinically depressed or just feeling sad because you have had troubles at work, financial struggles, or even a fight with someone you love.

Feeling sad is a normal human emotion we all get to experience, some more than others but when we talk about being depressed we need to talk about how long and the severity of the symptoms.

Key facts from the World Health Organization 

  • Depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression.
  • Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.
  • More women are affected by depression than men.
  • Depression can lead to suicide.
  • There are effective psychological and pharmacological treatments for moderate and severe depression.

Symptoms of depression

Some of the symptoms of depression can include:

  • Feelings of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, or emptiness.
  • Anhedonia or the loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Having sleeping problems either sleeping too much or having problems going to sleep.
  • Changes in your appetite leading to weight loss or weight gain.
  • Feelings of increased irritability, restlessness, frustration.
  • Feeling fatigued after doing regular activities, or with ‘low energy’.
  • Difficulties concentrating, memory problems, or problems with decision making.
  • Feelings of excessive guilt.
  • Social withdrawal or decreased interest in interacting with other people.
  • Crying more often than usual.
  • Recurring thoughts of death or dying.
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts.

However, not everyone who is depressed gets to experience all of the symptoms and each individual can experience it differently.

Moreover, if you feel occasionally that you are sleeping more than usual or your appetite has changed doesn’t automatically mean you are depressed. 

As indicated by Karla Thompson, Ph.D. from the North Carolina Office on Disability and Health, “It is when many of these symptoms occur together, cause difficulties in day-to-day functioning, and last longer than a few weeks that they may be signs of a depressive illness.”

Types of Depression

Ther type of depression will depend on the number and severity of your symptoms, a depressive episode can be mild, moderate, or severe.

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in its Fifth Edition classifies the depressive disorders as:

  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
  • Major depressive disorder (including major depressive episode)
  • Chronic depression or dysthymia
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Depressive disorder due to another medical condition
Disability for depression (A guide)

In addition, it can also be further categorized by specifiers that include:

  • Peripartum onset
  • Seasonal pattern
  • Melancholic features
  • Mood-congruent or mood incongruent psychotic features
  • Anxious distress
  • Catatonia  

However, the most severe kind of depression is Major Depression which involves a combination of the symptoms we have already talked about.

Moreover, Major depression is also part of another mood disorder called Bipolar Disorder where people experience periods of depression and periods of elevated mood, increased energy, agitation, among other symptoms.

On the contrary, a less severe type is considered to be Dysthymia which is often associated with persistent feelings of dissatisfaction, discouragement and disappointment.

All contributing to a disruption in day to day activities resulting in a poor quality of life.

Qualifying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

If you have been wondering ‘How do I qualify for ESA?’, consider the following eligibility criteria:

  • You need to be under the state pension age.
  • Should not be getting Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).
  • Should not be getting Jobseekers Allowance (JSA).

According to healthassured.org, there are two types of ESA:

  • Contribution-based: Provides financial support if claimants have paid sufficient National Insurance (NI) contributions.
  • Income-related: Applicants on a low income can get this either on its own or in addition to contribution-based ESA.

ESA support group criteria

Depending on the outcome of your assessment, you can be classified into one of the two ESA groups which will let you know how much you will receive and for how long:

You can be either in:

  • A work-related activity group that prepares employees who with some support can go back to work.
  • A support group, which is for people who are not able to return to work due to their illness or disability.

What will they ask in the assessment?

Questions will be related to both physical and mental health.

They will use this information to determine the level to which your disability or illness is affecting your ability to do your job.

Some of the questions may include (Healthassured.org):

  • Do you know what you are here for?
  • What are your medical conditions?
  • How long have you had these conditions?
  • How do these conditions affect you?
  • Is there an upstairs or downstairs bathroom?
  • How often do you shop?
  • Do you do shopping on your own?
  • Do you drive?
  • Is the car automatic or manual?
  • How long can you drive for?
  • Do you have any hobbies or interests?

Some activities relating to the physical health assessment include:

  • Mobilizing and navigating.
  • Picking up and moving.
  • Manual dexterity.

How can I claim ESA for depression?

Once you have received the medical certificate or also known as ‘fit note’ from your medical specialist, you can go ahead and file a claim for ESA with the DWP.

Consider that, if it is your first time applying, after completing the claim, the DWP can send some money straight away.

They will do this if they think you will be eligible for ESA.

When you send the claim for, remember to provide the ‘Fit Note’ from your GP which states you are not fit for work.

However, you will not get an automatic response.

In fact, the DWP can take several months to reach a decision.

Usually, if you haven’t heard from them after eight weeks, you can contact the DWP. 

You may be wondering at this point, ‘How do they reach a decision?’.

According to healthassured.org, after you have been assessed “a professional healthcare assessor will pass on recommendations to someone at the DWP. They’ll then use this information to decide if you get ESA or not. From the ESA50 form to finish, the whole process can take as much as a year to receive a final decision.”

Why is this blog about Disability for depression important?

This blog about disability for depression is very important for people who have been diagnosed with depression, either recently or have been struggling with it for quite some time.

Even though many people use the expression “feeling depressed” indiscriminately, it is important to distinguish when we are feeling clinically depressed and when we are just experiencing sadness. 

Moreover, it is necessary to check the eligibility criteria and what is considered a disability in order to qualify for certain benefits.

If depression is really overwhelming and it is preventing you from doing most day-to-day activities and you are definitely not fit for work then consider filling the claim for ESA even if the process where they reach a decision can take a while.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Disability for depression

Can you get on disability for depression?

Depression is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activities according to the Equality Act.

Long-term means “if it lasts or is likely to last, 12 months”.

According to the UK Government, “If your mental health condition means you are disabled you can get support at work from your employer.”

How much do you get for depression disability?

You can get £57.30 per week (standard payment) £85.60 per week if you’re more seriously ill (enhanced payment).

How long can you be on disability for depression?

The DWP will usually assess you between 6 months and 2 years after they have decided to grant ESA.

Moreover, you can receive ESA for up to 12 months if you are put in the Work-Related Activity Group but if you are in the Support Group, there is no limit on how long you can receive it.

What conditions automatically qualify you for disability?

There are many different mental health illnesses that can lead to disability such as dementia, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, among others. 

How do you prove mental disability?

To prove your mental disability to ESA, you will be assessed, and depending on the outcome claimants go into one of two ESA groups which decides how much you will receive and for how long.

You will be asked questions about your mental and physical health such as ‘What are your medical conditions?’, ‘How long have you had these conditions?’, ‘How do these conditions affect you?’, etc.


Thompson, K. (2002) Depression and Disability. A Practical Guide. The North Carolina Office on Disability and Health.

Gov.uk: “When a mental health condition becomes a disability”
Gilzean, A. (2012, Aug.) When is depression a disability?. Retrieved from Morton-fraser.com.

Healthassured.org: “What is an ESA assessment?”

Citizensadvice.org.uk: “Showing you’re disabled under the Equality Act”

Halverson, J.L. (2019, Oct.) How does the DSM-5 classify depressive disorders?. Retrieved from medscape.com. 

Who.int: “Depression”