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Anxiety Disorders and Social Security Disability

Anxiety Disorders - Condition and Symptoms

An anxiety disorder is a condition characterized by persistent feelings of apprehension, tension, or uneasiness. For those who are truly disabled on the basis of such a disorder, these feelings are not simply nervousness, but rather overwhelming feelings of alarm and even terror that can be provoked by ordinary events or situations occurring in everyday life.

Doctors diagnose five major types of anxiety disorders characterized by their symptoms:

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder – a fairly constant state of tension and worry not related to any particular event or situation. To be diagnosed as having Generalized Anxiety Disorder, this state must last at least six months.
  2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – repetitive or ritualistic behavior performed to reduce or control symptoms of anxiety, such as recurrent thoughts or impulses.
  3. Panic Disorder – repeated attacks of anxiety or terror that last up to 10 minutes and have no identifiable cause.
  4. Phobias – overwhelming, irrational, and involuntary fears of common situations, things, places, or events.
  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – severe stress symptoms lasting more than a month caused by being part of or witnessing a traumatic event.

Normal anxiety can have many causes, from various mental disorders such as depression, to adverse reactions to medication, to stressful but temporary life situations like divorce or job loss. In the diagnosis of a disabling anxiety disorder, a doctor will attempt to rule out such causes in order to prove that that the basis of a patient’s anxiety is not attributable to a separate issue or event. In addition, the doctor will attempt to establish the duration and severity of anxiety symptoms, and to determine the impact those symptoms have on your ability to engage in daily tasks such as work or school. To be categorized as a true “anxiety disorder,” a person’s anxiety must interfere directly and significantly with work, relationships, social life, and/or daily activities.

Symptoms of anxiety disorders include overwhelming feelings of panic and fear, uncontrollable obsessive thoughts, recurring nightmares, and painful, intrusive memories. Physical symptoms of this condition include increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, nausea, muscle tension, and other uncomfortable physical reactions. Symptoms tend to grow worse if left untreated, and can make normal life activities such as relationships, jobs, education, or even leaving the house difficult or impossible.

Anxiety disorders can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, and stress-reducing techniques intended to reduce, control, and eventually eliminate the worst symptoms of the disorder. Effectiveness of treatment depends on the type of anxiety disorder being treated, its severity, and whether the person with the disorder has any control over the causes of his or her anxiety.

Filing for Social Security Disability with an Anxiety Disorder Diagnosis

The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers anxiety disorders under Section 12.06 of the Blue Book, which covers Mental Disorders.

It can be difficult to claim Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits on the basis of an anxiety disorder diagnosis because the medical evidence supporting the diagnosis is highly subjective and is based on hard-to-document criteria, such as feelings and behavior that occurs outside the doctor’s office and is reported to the doctor by the patient.

In order to successfully apply for disability benefits due to an anxiety disorder, be sure to present a history of treatment by medical professionals, including both your physician and a qualified mental health professional, in order to show the recurrent or persistent nature of your anxiety disorder.

The SSA’s definition of disability is “any medically determinable mental or medical impairment that has prevented an individual from performing substantial work for twelve months, is expected to prevent an individual from working for twelve continuous months, or is expected to end with death.” Be sure that your medical documentation can thoroughly and specifically demonstrates to the SSA how your disability interferes with your ability to function on a daily basis.

If you apply for disability benefits under Anxiety-Related Disorders, you must meet the conditions of either Paragraphs A and B below, OR the conditions of Paragraphs A and C below.

  1. You must have medical documentation of one of the following:
    1. Constant generalized anxiety, with three of the following four symptoms: motor tension, vigilance and scanning, autonomic hyperactivity, or apprehensive expectation.
    2. Constant irrational fear of a situation, object, or activity that results in a significant desire to avoid the situation, object, or activity.
    3. Recurring severe panic attacks that are characterized by sudden unpredictable episodes of intense fear, apprehension, terror, and a sense of impending doom that happen at least once a week.
    4. Recurrent compulsions or obsessions that cause of marked distress.
    5. Recurring intrusive remembrances of a traumatic experience that causes marked distress.
  2. The condition under Paragraph A above must result in at least two of the following OR Paragraph C below:
    1. Marked problems maintaining concentration.
    2. Marked difficulties with persistence, or pace.
    3. Repeated periods of decompensation, each of extended duration.
    4. Marked difficulties maintaining social functioning; or restriction of routine activities of daily life.
  3. The conditions described in Paragraph A must result in your total inability to function independently outside your home.

If your condition does not qualify for full Social Security disability benefits, there is a chance you may still be awarded a medical vocational allowance.

Your Anxiety Disorder Disability Case

If you are disabled because of an Anxiety Disorder that prevents you from working, you may well be entitled to Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. Although total disability based on an Anxiety Disorder can be difficult to prove due to the subjective nature of diagnosis, working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation to support your disability claim can help to ensure that you present the strongest possible disability case.