SSR 85-16


This supersedes Program Policy Statement (PPS) No. 117 (Social Security Ruling (SSR) 85-8), Titles II and XVI: Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) for Mental Impairments (which superseded PPS No. 97 (SSR 83-16) with the same title).

PURPOSE: To state the policy and describe the issues to be considered when an individual with a mental impairment requires an assessment of the residual functional capacity (RFC) in order to determine the individual's capacity to engage in basic work-related activities.

CITATIONS (AUTHORITY): Sections 223(d), 216(i) and 1614(a) of the Social Security Act, as amended; Regulations No. 4, Subpart P, sections 404.1545, 404.1546, and Appendix 1, Part A, section 12.00, and Regulations No. 16, Subpart I, sections 416.945, 416.946.

INTRODUCTION: An individual whose impairment(s) meets, or is medically equivalent to, the requirements of an impairment(s) contained in the Listing of Impairments is considered unable to function adequately in work-related activities. On the other hand, an individual whose impairment is found to be not severe is considered not to be significantly restricted in the ability to engage in basic work-related activities. An individual whose impairment(s) falls between these two levels has a significant restriction in the ability to engage in some basic work-related activities. It is, therefore, necessary to determine the RFC for these individuals. This policy statement provides guides for the determination of RFC for individuals whose mental impairment(s) does not meet or equal the listing, but is more than not severe.


Importance of RFC Assessments in Mental Disorders

Medically determinable mental disorders present a variable continuum of symptoms and effects, from minor emotional problems to bizarre and dangerous behavior. However, in determining the impact of a mental disorder on an individual's capacities, essentially the same impairment-related medical and nonmedical information is considered to determine whether the mental disorder meets listing severity as is considered to determine whether the mental impairment is of lesser severity, yet diminishes the individual's RFC. For impairments of listing severity, inability to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA) is presumed from prescribed findings. However, with mental impairments of lesser severity, such inability must be demonstrated through a detailed assessment of the individual's capacity to perform and sustain mental activities which are critical to work performance. Conclusions of ability to engage in SGA are not to be inferred merely from the fact that the mental disorder is not of listing severity.

Regulations No. 4, section 404.1545(c)/416.945(c), presents the broad issues to be considered in the evaluation of RFC in mental disorders. It states that this evaluation includes consideration of the ability to understand, to carry out and remember instructions and to respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and customary work pressures in a work setting. Consideration of these factors, which are contained in section 12.00 of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1, is required for the proper evaluation of the severity of mental impairments.

The determination of mental RFC involves the consideration of evidence, such as:

  • History, findings, and observations from medical sources (including psychological test results), regarding the presence, frequency, and intensity of hallucinations, delusions or paranoid tendencies; depression or elation; confusion or disorientation; conversion symptoms or phobias; psychophysiological symptoms, withdrawn or bizarre behavior; anxiety or tension.
  • Reports of the individual's activities of daily living and work activity, as well as testimony of third parties about the individual's performance and behavior.
  • Reports from workshops, group homes, or similar assistive entities.

In analyzing the evidence, it is necessary to draw meaningful inferences and allow reasonable conclusions about the individual's strengths and weaknesses. Consideration should be given to factors such as:

  • Quality of daily activities, both in occupational and social spheres (see Listing 12.00, Introduction), as well as of the individual's actions with respect to a medical examination.
  • Ability to sustain activities, interests, and relate to others over a period of time. The frequency, appropriateness, and independence of the activities must also be considered (see PPS No. 96, SSR 83-15, Titles II and XVI: Evaluation of Chronic Mental Impairments).
  • Level of intellectual functioning.
  • Ability to function in a work-like situation.

When a case involves an individual (except disabled widow(ers) and title XVI children under 18) who has a severe impairment(s), which does not meet or equal the criteria in the Listing of Impairments, the individual's RFC must be considered in conjunction with the individual's age, education, and work experience. While some individuals will have a significant restriction of the ability to perform some work-related activities, not all such activities will be precluded by the mental impairment. However, all limits on work-related activities resulting from the mental impairment must be described in the mental RFC assessment.

It is the responsibility of the program physician or psychologist, the disability hearing officer (DHO), the administrative law judge (ALJ), or the Appeals Council (AC) member to identify the pertinent evidence from medical and nonmedical reports and to make findings as to the individual's ability to perform work-related activities (RFC). The determination of impairment severity and the resulting RFC constitute the medical evaluation of the mental disorder. The determination of "disability," however, depends upon the extent to which the individual has the vocational qualifications to perform work, in light of the restrictions described in the RFC assessment.

Evaluation of Medical and Other Evidence

Medical evidence is critical to determinations of disability. It provides medical history, test results, examination findings, and observations, as well as conclusions of medical sources trained and knowledgeable in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders.

Reports from psychiatrists and other physicians, psychologists, and other professionals working in the field of mental health should contain the individual's medical history, mental status evaluation, psychological testing, diagnosis, treatment prescribed and response, prognosis, a description of the individual's daily activities, and a medical assessment describing ability to do work-related activities. These reports may also contain other observations and opinions or conclusions on such matters as the individual's ability to cope with stress, the ability to relate to other people, and the ability to function in a group or work situation.

Medical documentation can often give clues as to functional limitation. For example, evidence that an individual is markedly withdrawn or seclusive suggests a greatly reduced capacity for close contact and interaction with other people. The conclusion of reduced RFC in this area can then be applied to all steps of vocational assessment. For example, when the vocational assessment establishes that the claimant's past work has been limited to work requiring close contact and interaction with other people, the preceding assessment would indicate that the claimant would be unable to fulfill the requirements of his or her past work. Therefore, the determination of disability in this instance would depend on the individual's vocational capacity for other work.

Similarly, individuals with paranoid tendencies may be expected to experience moderate to moderately severe difficulties in relating to coworkers or supervisors, or in tolerating normal work pressures. The ability to respond appropriately to supervision and to coworkers under customary work pressure is a function of a number of different factors, some of which may be unique to a specific work situation.

The evaluation of intellectual functioning by a program physician, psychologist, ALJ, or AC member provides information necessary to determine the individual's ability to understand, to remember instructions, and to carry out instructions. Thus, an individual, in whom the only finding in intellectual testing is an IQ between 60 and 69, is ordinarily expected to be able to understand simple oral instructions and to be able to carry out these instructions under somewhat closer supervision than required of an individual with a higher IQ. Similarly, an individual who has an IQ between 70 and 79 should ordinarily be able to carry out these instructions under somewhat less close supervision.

Since treating medical sources often have considerable information about the development and progress of an individual's impairment, as well as information about the individual's response to treatment, evidence from treating sources should be given appropriate consideration. On occasion, the report of a current treating source may disclose other sources of medical evidence not previously report. If so, these sources should be contacted, since it is essential that the medical documentation reflect all available sources, particularly in instances of questionable severity of impairment or inconclusive RFC. When medical source notes appear to be incomplete, recontact with the source should be made to attempt to obtain more detailed information. Every reasonable effort should be made to obtain all medical evidence from the treating source necessary to make a determination of impairment severity and RFC before obtaining evidence from any other source on a consultative basis. However, when treating medical sources cannot provide essential information, consultative examination by a treating or nontreating source may resolve the impairment or RFC issue. Similarly, when the reports from these sources appear to be incomplete, the source should be recontacted to clarify the issues.

Other evidence also may play a vital role in the determination of the effects of impairment. To arrive at an overall assessment of the effects of mental impairment, relevant, reliable information, obtained from third party sources such as social workers, previous employers, family members, and staff members of halfway houses, mental health centers, and community centers, may be valuable in assessing an individual's level of activities of daily living. Information concerning an individual's performance in any work setting (including sheltered work and volunteer or competitive work), as well as the circumstances surrounding the termination of the work effort, may be pertinent in assessing the individual's ability to function in a competitive work environment.

Reports of workshop evaluation may also be of value in assessing the individual's ability to understand, to carry out and remember instructions, and to respond appropriately to supervisors, coworkers, and customary work pressures in a work setting. Consequently, wherever the record shows that a workshop evaluation has been performed, the report should be requested from the source. If no workshop evaluation has been done, but, after complete and comprehensive documentation, genuine doubt remains as to the individual's functional capacity, consideration should be given to obtaining one. Information derived from workshop evaluations must be used in conjunction with the clinical evidence of impairment, but all conflicts between workshop evaluation and evidence and the conclusions based on objective medical findings must be resolved.

Descriptions and observations of the individual's restrictions by medical and other sources (including Social Security Administration representatives, such as district office representatives and ALJ's), in addition to those made during formal medical examinations, must also be considered in the determination of RFC. However, care must be taken not to give duplicate weight to certain findings. For example, a competent psychometric assessment of intellectual functioning provides a sample, referenced to established norms, of the individual capabilities in various areas, including those germane to a workshop situation. such a psychometric assessment, therefore, usually provides the same impairment-related information about functional capacity that might also be disclosed in the course of a workshop evaluation. Since the effects of the same underlying impairment(s) may be revealed in both assessment approaches, it would be incorrect to consider this duplicate representation of the same impairment to reflect separate and independent impairments. Such an approach would give the same impairment(s) double weight.

Observations and findings from a workshop evaluation may supplement the psychometric assessment or may raise some question concerning the accuracy of the psychometric assessment. Whenever a significant discrepancy in conclusions between the two arises, an explanation must be given by the program physician, psychologist, ALJ, or AC member for rejecting or modifying the conclusions of the psychometric assessment or the workshop evaluation.

EFFECTIVE DATE: On publication.

CROSS-REFERENCES: Program Operations Manual System, section DI 00401.592.

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