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Anxiety Disorders and qualifying for Social Security Disability Insurance

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of an Anxiety Disorder?

Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis

Living with an anxiety disorder is challenging and frustrating. Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences at one time or another; people can worry about their job, making an important decision or taking a test. Anxiety is the brain’s way of reacting to stress and alerting a person to potential danger. Occasional feelings of anxiety are okay, but anxiety disorders are something quite different; they are mental illnesses that cause overwhelming fear and cause a person to avoid work and social situations. If you are suffering from the effects of an anxiety disorder you may qualify for disability benefits.

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The SSA specifically defines anxiety-related disorders as potential reasons for a claimant to legitimately receive federal disability benefits. Call 512-454-4000 and get help today.

The primary symptom of an anxiety disorder is excessive worry or fear, but anxiety also affects a person physically.

Symptoms vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder, but common symptoms include:

  •    Panic and fear
  •   Inability to remain calm
  •    Obsessively avoiding feared objects or places
  •   Constant worry or fear of danger
  •   Shortness of breath
  •   Insomnia
  •   Hyperventilating
  •   Heart palpitations
  •   Nausea
  •   Dizziness
  •   Sweating
  •   Shaking
  •    Difficulty focusing
  •   Recurring nightmares

A complex mix of factors may be linked to why people suffer from anxiety, among them genetics, brain chemistry, medical conditions that cause symptoms similar to anxiety disorders and drug and alcohol abuse.

When diagnosing an anxiety disorder, in addition to an exam to find a physical cause, a doctor will send a patient to a psychiatrist or psychologist for other tests. Treatment involves medications to control symptoms and counseling to understand thoughts and feelings.

If you are suffering from an Anxiety Disorder and have been denied disability don’t give up! Most are initially denied. Just call 512-454-4000 for a free, no obligation consultation to learn your options and have your questions patiently answered.

Anxiety disorders are the most common emotional disorder, affecting approximately 40 million adults in the United States.

Though many people apply for SSDI, most cases are not severe enough to qualify. Only those applicants who suffer marked impact on their life will qualify.

Social Security recognizes four different anxiety disorders as impairments in its Blue Book under Section 12.06:

  1.   Generalized anxiety disorder.
  2. Individuals with this anxiety disorder worry about a variety of things for little or no reason. They may perceive a situation as life threatening when it isn’t, or are so worried about making a bad decision that they become unable to make any decision at all.

  3.   Panic disorder.
  4. This anxiety disorder is characterized by sudden, intense fear or a sense of impending danger. An individual may break out in a sweat, have chest pain or palpitations.

  5.   Social Anxiety Disorder.
  6. People with this disorder have an overwhelming fear and self-consciousness about every day social situations. They may worry about appearing anxious and avoid social situations or experience extreme stress when a social situation cannot be avoided.

  7.   Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
  8. In this disorder, a person experiences uncontrollable recurring thoughts or behaviors they repeat over and over. Examples include excessive hand washing due to an intense fear of germs or constantly rearranging objects in a particular order. Experts do not consider obsessive-compulsive disorder an anxiety disorder, but Social Security still evaluates it under anxiety disorders.

It should be noted here that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is considered an impairment in Section 12.00 Mental Disorders, but it is listed separately under trauma and stressor related disorders, Section 12.15.

Qualifying for Disability for an Anxiety Disorder

Qualifying for Social Security with an anxiety disorder is very difficult and you must satisfy some rigid requirements regarding symptoms and functional limitations.

You must be able to prove that you have an anxiety disorder with at least three of the following symptoms:

  •    Restlessness
  •   Difficulty concentrating
  •   Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia
  •   Irritability
  •   Muscle tension
  •   Becoming tired easily


You must have an “extreme” limitation in at least one of the following areas and a “marked” limitation in at least two of the following areas.

  •    Understanding, remembering and applying information. For example, can you understand instructions, learn new things, and apply knowledge to tasks?
  •   Concentrating, persisting, maintaining pace in completing tasks.
  •   Interacting with others; using socially appropriate behaviors.
  •   Adapting or managing oneself; being able to respond to demands, adapt to changes and understand acceptable work performance.

(“Marked” means seriously limiting and “extreme” not as severe as complete loss of an ability, but worse than marked. A Social Security psychiatrist or psychologist will decide if your limitations are marked or extreme when reviewing your medical evidence.)

Some people may not be able to meet the second set of criteria because they have special living arrangements which make their functional abilities appear better than they actually are.

Because they live in a highly supervised situation, like a group home or similar facility, their symptoms are not as obvious. In these cases, an applicant may be eligible if: 1) they have a medically documented disorder for over at least two years, 2) live in a highly structured setting or are receiving medical treatment that lessens symptoms; and 3) show a minimal capacity to adapt to situations outside their normal environment and daily life.

Social Security will review evidence provided by your healthcare providers describing your symptoms as well as results of any physical and mental exams.

Social Security will also seek information from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, employers and caregivers who are familiar with your symptoms and how you interact with others on a daily basis. The agency will also want to know your limitations in adapting to new situations or changes in your environment.

You should be prepared to provide Social Security with the following evidence:

  •    A diagnosis of an anxiety disorder
  •   Notes from your psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist
  •   Results of any psychological testing
  •   Records from as many people as possible
  •   Records of medications you are taking including responses and side effects
  •   Adult Function Report. This is an activities of daily living (ADL) form that you fill out explaining how anxiety affects your daily life and includes housework, meals, yard work, shopping, handling finances, and social activities. Be as detailed as possible and be sure to include how you feel and what happens when you have an anxiety attack at work. Do you make mistakes or forget instructions? Include any absences from work caused by anxiety.

If you have an anxiety disorder, but your disability does not match Social Security’s listing, you may still be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if you have another impairment; for example, high blood pressure or asthma.

Applicants often have more than one illness or injury that prevents them from working full time. By itself one disorder may not meet the requirements of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book, but if you have multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit your ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks. Social Security will also evaluate how your limitations affect your ability to work (called a medical vocational assessment), taking into account whether or not you are able to drive, your age, and level of education.

To qualify for SSDI, an anxiety disorder must be so overwhelming that functioning at school, in relationships, and at work becomes difficult and even impossible.

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, but know that the application process may be confusing, frustrating, and stressful, especially for an individual suffering from anxiety. You should consider consulting an experienced Social Security attorney who can review your case, guide you through the process and improve your chances for success.

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.

The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.

  1.   The Duration of Work test.   Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
  2.   The Current Work Test.   Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.

The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.

  1.   Are you working?   Your disability must be “total”.
  2.   Is your medical condition severe?    Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
  3.   Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments?   The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
  4.   Can you do the work you did before?   SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
  5.   Can you do any other type of work?   If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.

More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.

Case Study

One of our Cedar Park client’s treating physicians certified him as having a class 4 psychological functioning impairment.

He was advised to stop working due to “incapacitating anxiety”. When asked whether our client could return to work, this physician responded “No . . . currently his anxiety and depression are incapacitating and his treatment is just beginning.” Another physician stated that he suffered from Major Depression; recurrent, severe, Panic disorder with agoraphobia; and Dysthymic disorder. Accordingly, he was unable to perform daily chores, attend social functions, attend to legal needs, shop, or venture into the community and manage everyday financial affairs. Our client’s severe depression/anxiety interfered with his concentration, energy, self-confidence, decision making ability, and even his ability to leave the house. MetLife denied his claim, stating that he was no longer receiving treatment for his disability. We appealed his denial and won a reinstatement of benefits.

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Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.

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"Words can not truly express the gratitude that I feel toward Mr. Lonnie Roach and his professional team. I give them an A+++. Very compassionate and prompt. Their priorities are first and foremost helping you succeed at your case. When you feel helpless, feeling like someone is on your side can mean the world to you. Thank you for working for the people."
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Attorney Lloyd BemisAuthor: Attorney Lloyd Bemis has been practicing law for over 35 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Bemis obtained dual board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lloyd is admitted to practice in the United States District Court – all Texas Districts and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Bemis is a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has been active in the American Association for Justice and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Bemis and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.

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