Can I Get Disability Benefits for Social Anxiety?

If your social anxiety symptoms significantly interfere with your ability to function, you may qualify for disability benefits.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law
Updated 1/05/2024

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a mental illness that causes significant difficulties in everyday interactions with other people. More than shyness or introversion, social anxiety disorder can seriously disrupt your daily routine and may even restrict your ability to work. The same is true for avoidant personality disorder.

Can I Get Disability for My Social Anxiety Disorder?

People whose symptoms of social anxiety disorder prevent them from working full-time for at least one year may be eligible for Social Security benefits.

The characteristic symptom of social anxiety disorder is an intense fear of interacting with, and being negatively judged by, other people. This fear can manifest in physical ways, including:

  • avoiding eye contact
  • rapid heart rate
  • blushing, sweating, or trembling
  • nausea
  • having a stiff body posture, and
  • speaking in an overly soft voice.

Treatment for social anxiety disorder depends on how severe the symptoms are. Some people with mild symptoms are able to manage the condition with stress-reduction techniques, while those with more prominent symptoms might need therapeutic intervention, medication, or both.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) can evaluate applications—also called claims—for disability due to social anxiety disorder under Section 12.00 of the "Blue Book." The Blue Book contains categories of disorders that the agency considers to be automatically disabling when certain medical requirements are met.

Getting Disability by Meeting a Mental Health Listing

Disorders in the Blue Book are also called listed impairments (or "listings"). Each listing has a set of criteria that Social Security will look for documentation of in your medical records. For mental health listings, these criteria involve evidence of very significant functional limitations and symptoms that reflect a specific diagnosis.

While social anxiety disorder isn't a separate listing, disability applicants may be evaluated under several related listings, such as listing 12.06 for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders or listing 12.08 for personality and impulse-control disorders. To meet one of these listings, you'll need to show not only that you have the required symptoms, but that the symptoms severely limit your activities of daily living.

Symptoms for SSA Listing 12.06

Social Security breaks down the symptoms required to meet listing 12.06 into three separate categories: anxiety, panic disorder or agoraphobia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Depending on your specific diagnosis, you'll need to have a minimum of one or three characteristic symptoms of the impairment.

For anxiety disorder, your medical record must contain evidence of at least three of the below symptoms:

  • restlessness
  • becoming easily fatigued (tired)
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • muscle tension, or
  • sleep disturbance.

For panic disorder or agoraphobia, you'll need to demonstrate that you have one or both of the following:

  • panic attacks, followed by a persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences, or
  • disproportionate fear or anxiety about at least two different situations (like being in a public place, crowds, taking the bus, waiting in line, or leaving your house).

For obsessive-compulsive disorder, you'll need to show that you experience one or both of these symptoms:

  • an involuntary, time-consuming preoccupation with intrusive, unwanted thoughts, or
  • repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety.

You can learn more about mental disorders and listing 12.06 in our articles on anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and OCD.

Symptoms for SSA Listing 12.08

Avoidant personality disorder is a condition similar to social anxiety disorder that's characterized by extreme social withdrawal, sometimes to the point of isolation, and a debilitating fear of ridicule or rejection. Disability applicants with avoidant personality disorder might meet the qualifications of listing 12.08 if they have a "pervasive pattern" (ongoing, not just a one-time event) of at least one of the following symptoms:

  • distrust and suspiciousness of others
  • detachment from social relationships
  • disregard for and violation of the rights of others
  • instability of interpersonal relationships
  • excessive emotionality and attention-seeking
  • feelings of inadequacy
  • an excessive need to be taken care of
  • a preoccupation with perfectionism and orderliness, or
  • recurrent, impulsive, aggressive behavioral outbursts.

You can read more about listing 12.08 in our article on borderline personality disorder, a related condition.

Functional Limitations Required to Meet the Listings

Having evidence of the symptoms described in listing 12.06 or 12.08 is only half of the equation. To get disability benefits by meeting the listing, you also need to show that your symptoms caused you to experience an "extreme" limitation in at least one, or a "marked" limitation in at least two, of the following areas of mental functioning:

  • adapting or managing oneself (controlling your behavior, regulating your emotions, and adapting to change)
  • concentrating and persisting at tasks (being able to complete tasks)
  • interacting with others (using socially appropriate behaviors), or
  • understanding and remembering information (being able to understand instructions, learn new things, or apply new knowledge to tasks).

Unfortunately, Social Security doesn't clearly define what "marked" and "extreme" mean in this context, but "extreme" is considered worse than "marked". For example, somebody with a marked limitation in social interaction might go grocery shopping infrequently and at off-hours when there are fewer people, while somebody with an extreme limitation in that same area might have all their food delivered contact-free in order to remain isolated from others.

Getting Disability With a Reduced Residual Functional Capacity

If Social Security doesn't find that your social anxiety disorder meets the above listing requirements, the agency will then use your medical records to determine your mental residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a set of restrictions on the types of tasks and duties you can do at a job.

Social Security will assess how your symptoms affect your ability to do the mental and emotional requirements of full-time work when determining your RFC. Your RFC may include restrictions on your ability to interact with members of the public, get along with co-workers, talk with superiors, and adjust to changes in your environment. The more severe your symptoms are, the more restrictions you'll have in your RFC. Some restrictions rule out work entirely.

The agency will then compare your RFC to the requirements of your past jobs to see if you could do that kind of work again. If not, then Social Security will determine whether you're capable of performing other work, given your age, education, and skill set. If no other jobs exist that you can do, you'll be awarded benefits in what's called a medical-vocational allowance.

What Medical Records Do I Need to Get Disability for Social Anxiety?

Medical records are the foundation of your disability claim. You won't be able to meet the listing requirements or get a medical-vocational allowance without solid medical evidence supporting your symptoms. Example of evidence that Social Security will be looking for include:

  • records from your psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, social worker, or therapist showing the extent of your limitations
  • a list of any medications you're taking—including the dosage, frequency, and date they were prescribed—as well as any side effects you're experiencing,
  • intake and discharge notes from any hospitalizations caused by your social anxiety disorder, and
  • medical source statements from your treating providers.

Make sure you give Social Security the complete contact information for the offices, clinics, hospitals, and other providers you've seen for treatment. If you hire an attorney, your attorney will request the records for you. It may be helpful to discuss your claim with an experienced disability lawyer—applications for disability based on mental illness can be a challenge to win.

Basic Requirements for Disability

Everyone who applies for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) must also meet both of the following legal requirements:

Whether you're financially eligible for SSDI, SSI, or both depends on your work history and your household income levels. For more information, read our sections on SSI and SSDI.

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