Anxiety Disorder: Win Your Social Security Disability Claim

Those whose anxiety has a severe, negative impact on their lives and their ability to work and function socially may be able to get disability benefits.

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An anxiety disorder is a disorder in which anxiety (persistent feelings of apprehension, tension, or uneasiness) is the predominant disturbance. Anxiety disorders are the most common of emotional disorders. 

Symptoms of Anxiety 

Symptoms of anxiety disorders can include overwhelming feelings of panic and fear, uncontrollable obsessive thoughts, recurring nightmares, and painful, intrusive memories. Physical symptoms of this condition can include increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, nausea, muscle tension, and other uncomfortable physical reactions.

Anxiety disorder differs from normal feelings of nervousness, as the symptoms of anxiety disorder often occur for no apparent reason and do not go away. Rather than functioning as a call to action, these alarming reactions can make everyday experiences sources of potential terror. If left untreated, anxiety disorders can propel people to take extreme measures (such as refusing to leave the house) to avoid situations that may trigger or worsen their anxiety. Job performance and personal relationships inevitably suffer as a result.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are five types of anxiety disorders:

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by at least six months of a more-or-less constant state of tension or worry, not related to any specific event. Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, unprovoked attacks of anxiety or terror lasting up to ten minutes. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by recurrent, persistent, and intrusive thoughts or impulses that the person may feel can be controlled by performing repetitive behaviors. Post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by being part of or witnessing a traumatic event and results in severe stress symptoms lasting more than one month.

Phobias, a type of anxiety disorder, are irrational, involuntary, and overwhelming fears that lead a person to avoid common objects, events, or situations, including social situations.

Can You Get Disability for Anxiety?

Not all cases of depression and anxiety are severe enough to make an individual eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Disability benefits are available only to those who suffer a severe and marked impact on their lives as a result of their disability. For example, someone who is just mildly depressed but who can still shower and get dressed every day and go grocery shopping and cook meals is not going to be eligible for benefits, but someone who experiences a significant interference with his ability to do normal daily activities may be able to qualify. In addition to the requirement that the disability be sufficiently severe, the SSA also requires that the disability be a long-term one. This means the inability to work due to anxiety must have lasted 12 months at the time of the application, or it must be expected to last for 12 months. 

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides guidance as to just how severe anxiety must be in order for it to render a person eligible for benefits. This guidance is found in the SSA's listing of impairments, which is a list of covered disabilities that provides details on what symptoms must be exhibited in order for those particular disabilities to be considered disabling. 

The SSA's listing for anxiety-related disorders specifies that, for patients to qualify on the basis of an anxiety disorder, they must exhibit at least one of the following conditions:

  • Generalized anxiety: with muscle tension, apprehension, hyperactivity, and/or hyper-alertness
    (For details, see our article on disability for generalized anxiety.)
  • Panic: severe, ongoing and recurrent panic attacks that occur at least one time per week on average
    (For details, see our article on disability for panic disorder.)
  • OCD: continued, ongoing obsessive or compulsive behavior that causes significant distress
    (For details, see our article on OCD.)
  • PTSD: continued, ongoing and intense recollections of a traumatic event
    (For details, see our article on PTSD), or
  • Phobia: an ongoing dread or fear that is not rational and that compels the individual to avoid the situation/person/activity causing the fear.

In addition to exhibiting the symptoms of one of the above conditions, to qualify on the basis of anxiety, the individual must either be completely unable to function outside of his house or experience serious interference with two of the following:

  • daily life 
  • proper social function
  • concentrating, persisting in a task, or functioning at an appropriate pace, or
  • maintenance of the anxiety (that is, having continual periods of decompensation for long periods of time).

If the SSA finds that your symptoms don't fit into one of the above serious conditions, you may be able to get disability through a medical-vocational allowance (by showing you can't function enough to work).

Applying for Benefits

After ensuring that you meet the qualifications for one of the above anxiety disorders, you can complete an application for benefits with the SSA. The initial application, located on the SSA's website or available from your local SSA office, will ask you to provide basic information on your work history and disability. You will also need medical records proving that you have the required symptoms.

Your case will be assigned to a specialist for review, and you may be required to attend an interview or even undergo a consultative mental exam with an SSA-approved psychiatrist or psychologist to verify your condition. The process can take several months, but the more evidence and medical documentation you are able to provide, the better your chances of being able to get your claim approved. 

Note that the rules regarding disability for children are different; for more information, see our article on disability benefits for anxiety in children.

Help with Your Social Security Disability Claim

Qualifying for benefits on the basis of anxiety can be a challenge because this condition can be subjective to diagnose. As such, you may wish to consult with a qualified and experienced disability lawyer who can help you to get the evidence you need to convince the SSA that you are disabled enough to be entitled to benefits.

Updated by: , J.D.

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