Is Anxiety a Disability?
Anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorders, phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are considered a disability by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Those with anxiety can qualify for disability, and even get disability for anxiety, so long as they are able to prove to the SSA that their anxiety makes it impossible to work. If you are someone who is applying to try to get disability for anxiety, you must submit evidence showing how your anxiety disorder matches the SSA's Blue Book requirements.
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 nerves or nervousness, but rather are overwhelming feelings of alarm and even terror that can be provoked by ordinary events or situations occurring in everyday life.
Types of Anxiety
Doctors diagnose five major types of anxiety disorders characterized by their symptoms:
- 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.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – repetitive or ritualistic behavior performed to reduce or control symptoms of anxiety, such as recurrent thoughts or impulses.
- Panic Disorder – repeated attacks of anxiety or terror that last up to 10 minutes and have no identifiable cause.
- Phobias – overwhelming, irrational, and involuntary fears of common situations, things, places, or events.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – severe stress symptoms lasting more than a month caused by being part of or witnessing a traumatic event.
There is a wide variety of causes for normal anxiety, ranging from someone having a mental disorder(s) (e.g., depression), to adverse reactions to medication(s), to stressful (but temporary) life situations (e.g., divorce, losing your job). Thus, as one might expect, normal anxiety can have many causes.
When attempting to diagnose an anxiety disorder as disabling in order to help someone get anxiety disability, a doctor will attempt to rule out such causes (touched on above) in order to prove that that the basis of their patient’s anxiety is not attributable to a separate issue or event. Additionally, to determine the impact of these symptoms on the patient's ability to engage in daily tasks such as work or school, the doctor will likely attempt to establish both the duration and severity of their patient's anxiety symptoms. In order for a person's anxiety to be categorized as a true “anxiety disorder,” their anxiety must interfere both directly and significantly with work, relationships, social life, and/or daily activities.
Mental symptoms of anxiety disorders include overwhelming feelings of panic and fear, uncontrollable obsessive thoughts, recurring nightmares, and memories that are both painful and intrusive. Physical symptoms of anxiety disorders include increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, nausea, muscle tension, and other uncomfortable physical reactions. Typically, anxiety symptoms—if left untreated—tend to grow worse and can make normal life activities (e.g., relationships, jobs, education, leaving the house) difficult or even impossible.
Anxiety disorders can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, and stress-reducing techniques intended to minimize, control, and eventually eliminate the worst symptoms of the disorder. The effectiveness of such treatment(s) 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 their anxiety.
Can You Get Disability for Anxiety?
Anxiety can considered a disability if you have well-documented evidence that it impacts your ability to work. Furthermore, if you meet the medical requirements outlined by the SSA’s Blue Book, and have earned enough work credits, you will likely be deemed as disabled by the SSA, enabling you to get disability for anxiety (a.k.a., anxiety disability).
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. Section 12.00 of the Blue Book 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 (1) highly subjective, and (2) is based on hard-to-document criteria (e.g., feelings and behavior that occurs outside the doctor’s office and is reported to the doctor by the patient).
Thus, in order to successfully apply for anxiety disability benefits (and hopefully get those anxiety disability benefits), you need to be sure that you present a substantial history of the treatment you have received from medical professionals (including both your physician and your qualified mental health professional), in order for you to be able to highlight the recurrent and/or persistent nature of your anxiety disorder to the SSA.
The SSA’s definition of a 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.” Therefore, it is crucial that you are 100% sure that your medical documentation can thoroughly, and specifically, demonstrate to the SSA exactly how your disability interferes with your ability to function on a daily basis.
If you are trying to get anxiety disability, and 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.
- You must have medical documentation of one of the following:
- Constant generalized anxiety, with three of the following four symptoms: motor tension, vigilance and scanning, autonomic hyperactivity, or apprehensive expectation.
- Constant irrational fear of a situation, object, or activity that results in a significant desire to avoid the situation, object, or activity.
- 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.
- Recurrent compulsions or obsessions that cause of marked distress.
- Recurring intrusive remembrances of a traumatic experience that causes marked distress.
- The condition under Paragraph A above must result in at least two of the following OR Paragraph C below:
- Marked problems maintaining concentration.
- Marked difficulties with persistence, or pace.
- Repeated periods of decompensation, each of extended duration.
- Marked difficulties maintaining social functioning; or restriction of routine activities of daily life.
- 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, 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 very well be entitled to Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. Despite the fact that getting total anxiety disability—i.e., disability for anxiety, or disability that is based on an Anxiety Disorder)—can be quite difficult to prove as a result of the subjective nature of its diagnosis, working closely with medical professionals as well as a qualified Social Security disability attorney or disability advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation that supports your anxiety disability claim, can help you ensure that you are presenting the strongest possible anxiety disability case to get the disability for anxiety you deserve and may need.