Can I File for Disability for Stress?

Social Security evaluates stress and nerves in the same way as generalized anxiety.

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I have been under so much stress from working two different jobs and some family problems that I can no longer sleep. I can't concentrate on work or get anything done. Can I get disability for extreme stress?


Social Security disability applicants often cite "stress" or "nerves" on their disability applications. In some cases, the applicants who list these conditions are actively receiving treatment for an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety, agoraphobia or panic attacks, or PTSD. In other cases, the claimant will never have had mental health treatment of any kind.

If you are filing a disability claim based even partly on stress, it is important for you to have a history of mental health treatment for your stress problem. Generally, it is helpful to your disability claim to have at least a 12-month history of visits to a mental health professional for treatment of your stress condition. If you do not have 12 months of mental health treatment, you may still be able to get benefits if you have some kind of medical treatment for your stress condition within the past 90 days. If you haven't seen a doctor for treatment for your stress problems or your treatment is not current, you will most likely be scheduled for a consultative mental health examination to ascertain your current mental status. But applicants without their own doctor who are sent to Social Security mental health exams for stress aren't likely to be approved for benefits; claims examiners will often send an applicant to a Social Security doctor to be able to close the file (deny the case).

What happens if you list "stress" or "nerves" on a disability application? First, Social Security will look to see if you are working (at or above the substantial gainful activity level), whether your stress has prevented you from working for 12 months (or can be expected to keep you working for 12 months), and whether your stress seems severe. If you pass these threshold tests, Social Security is required to evaluate your stress under its disability listing for anxiety disorders. For more information, see our section on disability for anxiety disorders, where we discuss how Social Security will evaluate whether your anxiety is disabling enough to qualify for disability benefits.

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