Frequently, we represent clients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, or some combination of these mental illnesses. Anxiety can be crippling. It can cause someone to miss work. It can make someone incapable of interacting with others in the workplace. It can even result in physical symptoms which limit the ability to work. If anxiety is affecting you in this way, you may have wondered about whether it would make you eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits.
Getting Social Security for Anxiety
In any case involving anxiety, Social Security will assess the severity of this impairment and its effect on someone’s ability to do their past work. For example, Social Security will consult with psychological experts who may offer an opinion on whether anxiety prevents a worker from regularly interacting with the public. If someone has social anxiety which prevents interactions with customers, this can be an important limitation. A person with a history of working in the retail or restaurant industries may be unable to continue if experiencing significant social anxiety. In a case involving an older individual, the ability perform past work is often the most crucial issue in the case, so a social limitation like this can be important in proving that someone can no longer perform their past work and should therefore be considered disabled.
In a case involving a younger individual, however, a judge would need to find that anxiety prevents this person from doing any work whatsoever in order to approve the case. Anxiety is a common diagnosis and simply seeing it in the record is not going to cause a judge allow a claim.
Anxiety Disorders That Can Qualify for Social Security
If anxiety makes you unable to work, you should have an attorney who knows how to set your case apart from others and explain to a judge why it is a particularly severe case that renders you disabled. Situations like these may indicate disability:
Social Security has “listings,” or medical criteria, for various impairments. If an impairment satisfies all of the criteria, it “meets the listing,” meaning the person suffering from this impairment is presumably disabled. There is a listing for anxiety and it used to provide that someone would meet the listing with a “complete inability to function independently outside the area of one’s home.” This listing changed a few years ago and this portion was eliminated.
Nonetheless, I would certainly argue that someone unable to function outside the home should be considered disabled. This would equate to an extreme in the ability “adapt or manage oneself,” which is considered disabling under the new listing. However, a judge may not see it that way. “Extreme” is somewhat vaguely defined and conservative judges may be reluctant to give someone any kind of “extreme” mental limitation if that person is capable of doing things like cooking and bathing at home. To maximize a claimant’s chances with this kind of judge, a skilled attorney can obtain medical opinions and treatment notes to show why someone with agoraphobia wouldn’t be able to sustain even low-stress work with minimal social interaction. Such a finding would also support a disability finding from a judge with a tendency to approach a case from a strictly vocational perspective.
Complaints of panic attacks are also fairly common. If these occur infrequently and can be avoided when working a job that does not involve exposure to triggers for the panic attacks, they may not be disabling. However, if regular panic attacks cannot be avoided by limiting exposure to stress, a panic disorder can be disabling. Vocational experts will testify that monthly absences or being consistently off-task more than 10% of the workday can make someone ultimately unable to sustain work, so these can be disabling factors. Even if someone had panic attacks that did not reach this frequency, they could still be disabling if they often disrupt others the workplace, as this would not be tolerated by a typical employer.
Again, this is a relatively common issue, and it’s normal to sometimes feel anxious in social situations. However, I often talk to clients who say they cannot be around people throughout a workday and therefore cannot work. Vocational experts will testify that there are jobs which minimize social interaction – they do not involve contact with the general public and enable someone to work independently throughout most of the workday. These experts will nonetheless concede that all jobs involve at least some interaction with a supervisor and will generally require someone to at least be around others at work. Someone who cannot sustain even this minimal level of social interaction should be considered disabled.
Our Social Security Attorneys Can Help With Your Claim
All Social Security claims involve what is known as the twelve month durational requirement, meaning the Social Security Administration only makes findings based on limitations caused by impairments which have lasted or are expected to last twelve months or longer. Anxiety can wax and wane. With treatment crippling anxiety can improve to the point of being non-disabling within a year. A Social Security judge will only feel comfortable approving an anxiety case if the claimant has obtained mental health treatment and has still not improved to the point of being able to work. The judge will be interested in the opinion of the treating mental health professional when considering this issue. The strongest case will include an opinion from this professional stating that a patient’s mental health has improved as much as possible, and the patient is still unable to work. Before making an opinion like this, the mental health professional will need to see a patient put forth a good faith effort in treatment, yet still not experience enough improvement to return to work.
Sometimes I will receive a call from someone who is too anxious to work but not in any mental health treatment. I always tell person needs to seek mental health treatment.
I have to emphasize that the goal of pursuing mental health treatment should be to get better and return to the workforce, not just to get disability. If a psychiatrist thinks someone is only in mental health treatment to get disability, the doctor is not going to be willing to provide a statement in support of disability for that patient, reducing the likelihood of success on the disability claim. The doctor’s concerns will also be apparent in the medical records which will be reviewed by the judge. Therefore, it’s really pointless to seek psychotherapy with the sole goal of getting disability; the treatment needs to be approached in good faith with the goal of getting back to work. If this is not possible, Keller & Keller's Social Security attorneys can help you present your treatment history to the judge so you can be approved.