Does My Anxiety Disorder Qualify Me for Social Security Disability Benefits?

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Over 40 million Americans over the age of 18 suffer from an anxiety-related disorder in a given year. That represents approximately 18% of the adult American population in the United States. While most of these people can manage their condition with medications and therapy, others cannot. For some, an anxiety-related disorder can prove debilitating to the point that it prevents normal functioning on a day-to-day basis. For such people, anxiety can make gainful employment impossible and creates a financial catastrophe.

Fortunately, Social Security Disability (SSD) or SSI can serve as a critical financial lifeline for those people disabled by anxiety-related disorders. In this post, I will review the criteria necessary to meet Social Security's medical listing for anxiety and, thus, qualify for SSD or SSI benefits. It is important to note that you can still qualify for benefits even if your anxiety does not meet the level of the medical listing. In that case, you will have to demonstrate that your anxiety (and any other medical conditions) would prevent you from sustaining full time work – 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Defining Anxiety-Related Disorders

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines an anxiety-related disorders as a condtiion in which either:

  • anxiety is experienced consistently, or
  • anxiety is felt when the individual tries to overcome symptoms of another condition. Examples of this definition would be anxiety experienced during attempts to confront a dreaded object or situation for people suffering from phobias or during attempts to resist obsessions or compulsions by those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Medical Listing for Anxiety

A medical listing is a collection of medical criteria created by the Social Security Administration (SSA) for a particular condition to qualify for disaiblity benefits. If your condition meets the criteria in the medical listing, you will meet the medical requirements necessary for receiving Social Security Disability benefits and be approved.

Condition 1

 According to the SSA, an anxiety-related disorder is a medically documented condition with at least one of the following characteristics:

  • Generalized persistent anxiety accompanied by three of the four following groups of signs or symptoms:
    • Motor Tension: trembling, restlessness, easy fatigability, tension of muscles
    • Autonomic hyperactivity: shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, cold hands
    • Apprehensive expectation: sense of impending doom, and/or
    • Vigilance and scanning: increased startling, trouble with concentration, feeling nervous/anxious/wound up.
  • Phobic disorder: A persistent irrational fear (phobia) of a specific object, activity, or situation that results in an overwhelming desire to avoid such objects, activities, or situations.
  • Panic attacks: Audden unpredictable onset of intense apprehension, fear, terror and sense of impending doom that occur at least once a week on average.
  • OCD: Obsessions and compulsions that cause significant anxiety or distress.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Recurrent intrusive recollections of a traumatic experience that cause marked distress or anxiety

Condition 2

Does your condition cause severe functional limitations? The second consideration is whether your condition is severe enough to limit you from working. You can satisfy this guideline in one of two ways.

  • Demonstrate that the condition is significantly limiting your ability to function by meeting two of the following criteria:
    • Marked restriction of activities of daily living. These are the activities that people do on a daily basis that allow them to independently live their lives. These activities include grooming and hygiene, using a telephone, cleaning your home, paying bills, and using public transportation. In evaluating your ability to perform activities of daily living, the SSA will also determine the extent to which you can perform them. In other words, the SSA will determine if you can perform these activities independently, appropriately, effectively, and for extended periods of time. Through this evaluation, the SSA will determine the extent to which your condition limits your ability to function on a daily basis.
    • Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning. This describes your ability to interact effectively with other people. To determine this, the SSA will look for any history of altercations, evictions, termination of employment, avoidance of relationships and other signs that your condition prevents you from establishing and maintaining social interactions and relationships necessary for a functional role in both the workplace and society.
    • Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. This describes the ability to maintain enough concentration to successfully complete tasks commonly performed in the workplace. Such limitations are usually demonstrated through psychological testing (mental status examination), prior work evaluations, or both.
    • Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. This describes periods of exacerbation in which your anxiety becomes so severe that you experience the marked functional limitations described above. These periods of decompensation are usually identified in the medical record as times when medications or treatments need to be significantly altered and/or documentation is present expressing the need for a more structured psychological support system (hospitalization, for example). The SSA defines “repeated episodes" of "extended duration" as three periods within one year (or an average of once every four months), each lasting for at least two weeks.

OR

  • Demonstrate through medical records that you have had an anxiety-related condition of at least two years and one of the following:
    • Repeated episodes of decompensation (worsening of symptoms) that last for an extended period of time
    • Demonstration that your disease is so severe that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause decompensation, or
    • Documented history of one or more years of inability to function outside of a highly supportive living arrangement with a continued need for this highly supportive living arrangement.

Even if you do not meet the medical listing for anxiety conditions, you can still obtain SSD or SSI benefits if you can demonstrate that you can't do your prior work and that, given your age, education and work experience, you would be unable to perform any other work with the restrictions and functional limitations caused by your anxiety disorder.

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Updated by: , J.D.

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