Many people have an aversion to public places or feel anxious around large groups, but are able to handle basic activities such as grocery shopping with minimal assistance. But others have such an intense negative reaction to outside environments that it can confine them to their home and prevent them from engaging in simple public interactions, a condition known as agoraphobia (uh-gor-uh-FO-bee-uh).
Agoraphobia is an extreme or irrational fear of open or crowded spaces. People with agoraphobia usually experience some type of physical distress when they need to leave their house, such as sweating, increased heart rate, or difficulty breathing.
Agoraphobia is a mental impairment that fits within the category of anxiety disorders. A person with agoraphobia might have a panic attack when placed in a situation where they feel trapped, and just thinking about being in an environment that's outside of their comfort zone can cause panic. As a result, people with agoraphobia develop coping strategies such as avoiding public places. In severe cases, a person with agoraphobia might not leave their house at all.
As an anxiety disorder, agoraphobia can have a serious impact on your ability to work. If your agoraphobia symptoms persist despite treatment and prevent you from working full-time for at least twelve months, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
Social Security will first look to see if your agoraphobia is severe enough to qualify you automatically for disability benefits under the Blue Book listing for anxiety. If not, the agency will look at the functional limitations caused by your agoraphobia and decide whether those limitations rule out all jobs.
Social Security evaluates agoraphobia under listing 12.06 for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders. To get disability benefits by meeting this listing, your medical records will need to contain evidence of one or both of the following agoraphobia symptoms:
Your limitations must be "marked" in two of the above categories, or "extreme" in one. Your limitations are considered to be marked when you can complete them independently, but with significant difficulty. If you have an extreme limitation, you can't function in that area on your own.
Few people will have agoraphobia so severe that it meets the strict criteria of listing 12.06. But mild or moderate symptoms of agoraphobia can be enough to qualify you for disability benefits if they keep you from working, especially if you have other physical or mental disorders.
To determine whether you can work, Social Security will look at your medical records and functional limitations and come up with a set of restrictions called your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC describes the most you're capable of doing in a work environment.
People with agoraphobia will likely have an RFC that restricts the types of tasks they're able to do and who they can work with. Limitations on jobs that involve public contact, such as cashier or server, are common. The more severe your agoraphobia is, the more limitations you'll have in your RFC. Certain restrictions can rule out full-time work entirely, such as missing too many days of work because you can't leave the house.
Social Security will compare your RFC to the duties of jobs you've held in the past to see if you could currently perform those jobs. Depending on your age, education, and work history, being unable to perform your past work might be enough to qualify for disability benefits based on the medical-vocational grid rules.
If the grid rules don't apply to you (or you're under the age of 50) but your RFC eliminates even the least stressful jobs with minimal public contact, the agency will find that you're disabled.