Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is a chronic mental illness where sufferers experience crippling anxiety when faced with everyday social interactions. Symptoms include difficulty talking and making eye contact, intense fear of interacting with strangers, and the fear of being embarrassed or judged.
Although many people experience these symptoms from time to time, people with social anxiety disorder suffer them to the extent that their daily work, school, and social routines are disrupted. People with social anxiety disorder also experience physical manifestations such as blushing, sweating, fast heartbeat, confusion, diarrhea, and trembling or shaking.
Avoidant personality disorder is similar to social anxiety, but avoidant personality disorder is characterized not only by extreme social inhibition, but also by feelings of inadequacy and sensitivity to rejection.
Social anxiety disorder and avoidant personality disorder can usually be treated, with varying degrees of success, with a combination of medication and therapy.
Those with social anxiety often have trouble communicating with managers, co-workers, and the public and they may have trouble attending work every day because of relapses and panic attacks. The side effects of anti-anxiety medication may also make it difficult to concentrate. Severe social anxiety can make it impossible for some individuals to work.
To decide if you qualify for disability for your social anxiety disorder, the SSA will first evaluate whether your condition is eligible for benefits under its medical listing for anxiety disorders. If your condition fulfills the criteria of the listing, you can be automatically approved for benefits, without the SSA having to look at your age, education, and prior work history. Avoidant personality disorder might be evaluated under the anxiety listing or under the listing for personality disorders.
Social Security breaks the listing for anxiety disorders into two separate sets of symptoms. In addition to having one of the sets of required symptoms, you must show that your social anxiety causes certain severe limitations in what you can do.
Panic disorder or agoraphobia. The first set of symptoms is for panic disorder or agoraphobia, which are closely related to social anxiety. You have been diagnosed with panic disorder or agoraphobia and experience one or both of the following:
General anxiety disorder. The second set of symptoms is for general anxiety disorder. To meet this part of the listing, you must have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and your psychiatric or psychological records must show that you regularly suffer from three or more of the following symptoms as a result of your social anxiety:
Your social anxiety must cause you to experience an extreme limitation in at least one of the following areas, or a "marked" limitation in at least two of the following areas:
Note that "marked" is worse than moderate—you can think of it as seriously limiting.
If Social Security finds your social anxiety disorder doesn't meet the above listing requirements, the agency will use your medical records to determine your mental residual functional capacity (MRFC). (Your MRFC is what tasks and duties you can do despite your limitations.)
The SSA will prepare a report that assesses how your symptoms affect your ability to do the mental and emotional requirements of a job. It may include limitations 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 SSA will then compare your MRFC to the requirements of your past jobs. If the SSA concludes that your social anxiety disorder stops you from doing your past work (say your past job required dealing with the public), the agency will look to see whether there are less mentally and socially demanding jobs that you could do.
You should ask your treating doctors to fill out an MRFC form for you, including descriptions of your symptoms and how they affect your ability to work. It is better to have a doctor that specializes in anxiety disorders prepare your MRFC (such as a psychiatrist or psychologist).
Here are some examples of how MRFCs were used to help decide a claimant's case.
Regardless of whether you meet the listing requirements or will have an MRFC, you will need to provide the SSA with objective medical evidence to support your claim. Examples of this evidence are:
Make sure you give the SSA the complete contact information for any medical providers you have 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 attorney; disability claims based on mental illness can be a challenge to win.
Everyone who applies for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) must also meet the following requirements.
Updated January 3, 2023