While many people are affected by high levels of stress and anxiety in their daily life, there are others who suffer from anxiety on a regular basis. Anxiety is a mental condition that is marked by extreme fear and worry in the midst of everyday activities that can lead the person to seek complete control over everything that goes on during their day. In some cases, this anxiety can be so severe that it interferes with your daily life, inhibiting your ability to function in a workplace and secure gainful employment. When this occurs, you may be entitled to seek out social security benefits as long as your anxiety meets the medical and other qualifying requirements.
Defined: Symptoms of Severe Anxiety
It is easy to become stressed and anxious when you are in a situation that is out of your control. But for those who suffer from severe anxiety, they have an extreme fear of public humiliation and judgment of others. This level of anxiety can be either mildly or extremely disabling for the individual. In fact, people who suffer from extreme anxiety are likely to underperform or underachieve so that they can fly below the radar and go unnoticed by others. They also may try to protect themselves by limiting their activity, sometimes even confining themselves to their homes to avoid public places such as grocery stores.
When severe anxiety occurs, it can have major effects on an individual’s physical and mental behavior. Some of the symptoms of severe anxiety include:
- Flushing in the face
- An increased heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Tense muscles
- Inability or difficulty speaking
- Irrational fear in common situations
- Avoidance of people or places
- Problems concentration or focusing
- Fear of crowds
- Feelings of extreme panic
- Feeling faint
- Difficulty staying on task
- An inability to perform activities at home, work, or school
Anxiety disorder is most often diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist, once they have completed a full evaluation. After diagnosis, they will often use cognitive-behavioral techniques and therapies, counseling, and medications to reduce symptoms. While these can minimize symptoms, sometimes the side effects of the medication can cause problems as well.
Medical Evidence Needed to Support an Anxiety Disorder
Anyone who gets anxious from time to time may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but for your anxiety to be classified as severe and possibly grounds for disability, there are some medical parameters that will need to be satisfied first. Your doctor or psychologist will need to diagnose you with a specific form of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be classified as:
- General Anxiety Disorder: Which includes symptoms of anxiety during daily activities with no underlying cause specifically to blame.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This is marked by stress related to recurring thoughts about a past event that was stressful.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Which can involve obsessing over and repeatedly performing simple tasks.
- Panic Disorder: This is marked by a physical response even when no actual danger is present.
- Agoraphobia: This can involve the avoidance of public places and even result in self-confining to one’s home.
To be approved for disability, SSA will look for evidence of both psychological evaluations and testing to show that the diagnosed case is present. It is also important that disability is made aware of what the possible ramifications of your illness would be if you were in a workplace. Would you have a hard time concentrating? Would you avoid customers and coworkers? Would workplace stress trigger your condition? Would you experience limited functioning if your anxiety was triggered?
The Qualifications of Social Security’s Listing of Impairments
In order to qualify for disability, your doctor’s diagnosis will have to characterize your anxiety as causing three or more of the listed conditions.
- Difficulty concentrating or staying on task
- Sleep disturbances
- Muscle tension
- Becoming easily fatigued
Once three or more of the above characteristics have been established, it will need to be proven that your anxiety inhibits normal function. You will need to have demonstrated extreme impairment in one of the following areas listed below or a serious problem in two or more of the areas.
- Problems comprehending, retaining, or using information, inhibiting your ability to follow instructions, exercise good judgment, or learn new things.
- Difficulty interacting with others, preventing you from exercising socially appropriate behavior.
- Problems staying on pace or concentrating on a task, leading to your inability to complete them.
- Difficulty adapting to change which can cause behavioral problems.
- Problems with self-care.
If you have already been in a protected and structured situation such as intense therapy or receiving an immense amount of psychological support, these issues may be diminished, but that does not mean you won’t necessarily qualify. If our doctor determines and has documented support that the above conditions are likely to exist if you are removed from your protected setting and put into real-life situations, you may still qualify.
Getting to Know Medical Eligibility Requirements
There are also medical eligibility requirements that will have to be met in order for you to qualify as disabled due to anxiety. You will need to be able to meet these Blue Book listings regarding your anxiety disorder as well as have historical documentation of all your associated symptoms that could limit your capability to work. There are different requirements based on the specific disorder you are diagnosed with, but you will be required to meet at least two of the following criteria below.
- Demonstrated restrictions in the activities involved for daily functioning.
- Severe difficulties functioning in a social setting.
- A significant difficulty in maintaining pace, concentration, or persistence.
- Experiencing repeated episodes of decompensation.
To qualify, you will need to have experienced these difficulties and been unable to work for at least a twelve-month period. You can either apply for Social Security Income or Social Security Disability dependent on your current income levels and what is included in your work history.
Making Sense of Residual Functional Capacity
There are cases where your anxiety disorder would not be considered to be severe enough to prohibit you from working, but may still limit you. In these instances, you will be given a “mental residual functional capacity” statement from the Social Security Administration. This statement will detail the type of work that you are capable of performing and how often you can perform these tasks. For example, a diagnosis of panic disorder could lead you to concentration problems as your panic will take over in certain situations. Your statement may prohibit you from performing complex tasks but allow you to perform shorter takes that are simpler and can be learned in less than a month. They can also put more restrictions in place, such as no contact with the general public and limited contact with other employees.
In this situation, you would likely be denied benefits as you can still perform minimal tasks, but if your panic attacks were to become more frequent, limiting your concentration level to around eight hours, then it is likely that you would be unable to perform any type of employment and could be awarded disability.
In short, to be awarded disability benefits, your residual functional capacity deemed by the SSA will need to limit you from working any jobs that you have previously had, and from performing been simple tasks available to unskilled workers in the United States.
Making a Disability Case for Anxiety
Even if you meet the requirements, obtaining Social Security Disability for an anxiety disorder can be a long and difficult process. Since there are no definitive medical tests to diagnose anxiety, it can require months of medical history, a significant amount of testing, and multiple assessments for a diagnosis to be accepted by SSA. Additionally, the process can take months to complete, and there is a higher percentage of applications that are denied initially. This does not mean that you should avoid applying for fear of denial. If at first denied, you can go through an appeal process that can allow you to address the concerns in the denial and prove your case.
Since the application process can be long and difficult, and often result in the need for an appeal, you will have the best chance of securing benefits if you seek out the services of an experienced disability attorney.