Answer to a question from a reader

Does the disability grant cover mental health issues?

The short answer

Sometimes, but ultimately it is up to SASSA's discretion

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I have been unemployed for two years and have been struggling to get a job due to my manic depression and PTSD. Do I qualify for a disability grant?

The long answer

To qualify for a disability grant, you must:

  • be a South African citizen, permanent resident or refugee and living in South Africa at the time of application,

  • be between 18 and 59 years old,

  • not be cared for in a state institution,

  • have a valid South African identity document (ID),

  • provide a medical report and functional assessment report by a medical practitioner, which isn’t older than 3 months at the date of application, confirming the disability,

  • meet the requirements of the means test, and

  • not be a recipient of another grant.

When you apply for a disability grant, the SASSA official will give you a medical form that must be filled in by a doctor. The doctor must write on the form what kind of disability it is and how long they think it will last. If the doctor believes that the disability will last for longer than six months but less than a year, the application will be for a temporary disability grant. If the doctor thinks the disability will be for longer than a year, the application will be for a permanent disability grant. The permanent disability grant doesn’t mean that you will get the grant permanently, though, but it will be for longer than a year. Then you could be asked to re-apply for the disability grant.

The SASSA official will send the medical report, which can’t be more than three months old, to the medical officers in SASSA, and they will look at it and see if they agree that you are disabled. If they don’t agree, they will turn the application down. 

But the problem when you apply for a disability grant on mental health grounds, is that there are many more questions surrounding disability on the grounds of conditions like PTSD and manic depression or bipolar mood disorder than there are on simpler physical grounds.

For example, an article in the South African Psychiatric Journal says that many patients with bipolar disorder can function well between episodes. It goes on to say that there are three categories of bipolar mood disorder that may be considered for permanent disability: patients who have “prominent residual symptoms” – meaning symptoms that don’t go away after a major emotional episode; patients who have frequent relapses; and patients whose jobs mean they can’t relapse without causing serious problems for the public, like pilots or judges.

When it comes to PTSD, the Psychiatric Journal notes that PTSD symptoms generally improve with time, so an extended period of treatment is indicated before the PTSD is considered a permanent condition. It goes on to say that many patients with persistent PTSD symptoms are still able to function satisfactorily.

So, all in all, it’s not a simple matter to get a disability grant approved on the grounds of bipolar/manic depression and PTSD.

For further queries, you could contact the SASSA National Call Centre at 0800 601011.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on June 30, 2021, 1:56 p.m.

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