Functional impairment in people with schizophrenia: Focus on employability and eligibility for disability compensation

Philip D. Harvey, Robert K. Heaton, William T. Carpenter, Michael F. Green, James M. Gold, Michael Schoenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Background: The Social Security Administration (SSA) is considering whether schizophrenia may warrant inclusion in their new "Compassionate Allowances" process, which aims to identify diseases and other medical conditions that invariably quality for Social Security disability benefits and require no more than minimal objective medical information. This paper summarizes evidence on the empirical association between schizophrenia and vocational disability. A companion paper examines the reliability and validity of schizophrenia diagnosis which is critically relevant for granting a long-term disability on the basis of current diagnosis. Methods: This is a selective literature review and synthesis, based on a work plan developed in a meeting of experts convened by the National Institute of Mental Health and the SSA. This review of the prevalence of disability is focused on the criteria for receipt of disability compensation for psychotic disorders currently employed by the SSA. Results: Disability in multiple functional domains is detected in nearly every person with schizophrenia. Clinical remission is much more common than functional recovery, but most patients experience occasional relapses even with treatment adherence, and remissions do not predict functional recovery. Under SSA's current disability determination process, approximately 80% of SSDI/SSI applications in SSA's diagnostic category of "Schizophrenia/Paranoid Functional Disorders" are allowed, compared to around half of SSDI/SSI applications overall. Moreover, the allowance rate is even higher among applicants with schizophrenia. Many unsuccessful applicants are not denied, but rather simply are unable to manage the process of appeal after initial denials. Discussion: Research evidence suggests that disability applicants with a valid diagnosis of schizophrenia have significant impairment across multiple dimensions of functioning, and will typically remain impaired for the duration of normal working ages or until new interventions are developed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Disability
  • Employment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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