1. Are you working?
As with all impairments, the first question is: are you working now? Because if you are working, the likelihood is you are not disabled. If you are not working, the question becomes whether your impairment is severe. If your impairment is not severe, you are not disabled.
2. Do you have a severe impairment?
To determine whether a mental impairment is severe, SSA looks at 4 criteria: (a) activities of daily living; (b) maintaining social functioning; (c) concentration, persistence and pace; and (d) episodes of decompensation.
3. Do you meet or equal the listings?
Step 3, the listings, is a claimant’s earliest opportunity to win. There are 14 bodily systems represented in the listings, with mental impairments enumerated in section 12.
4. Can you return to past relevant work?
If the person does not meet the listings because, for example, only one instead of two criteria are at the “marked” level, then the last two questions revolve around the extent to which that marked impairment erodes the potential job base otherwise available.
The question at step 4 is whether the impairment prevents a person from returning to past relevant work. “Relevant” means within the past 15 years.
5. Can you do any other work?
If it is determined you cannot return to your past work, the fifth and final question is whether you can do any work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
Ultimately, the task becomes to whittle away at the more than 12,000 occupations listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles until all concerned agree that there is no longer a significant number of jobs available, at which point a claimant is awarded benefits.