Is Anxiety a Disability?

Can I Work with Anxiety Disorders?

Is Anxiety a Disability?

Speaking in a broad sense, an anxiety disorder is a mental condition which causes excessive amounts of fear, unease, apprehension, or worry. This is not to say that everyone who experiences these emotions (even at significant or extreme levels) has an anxiety disorder.

Rather, anxiety disorders are marked by experiencing these feelings when there are no obvious or logical reasons for them.

In such cases, anxiety does not function as a catalyst to action (which is its intended purpose psychologically speaking), but rather can hinder you from day to day activities.

Anxiety disorders come in a variety of forms, with the most common forms recognized for Social Security Disability purposes being Social Phobias, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Medicinal and therapeutic treatments for the various forms of anxiety disorders vary considerably, and treatments which are highly effective for one sufferer may have no benefit to another.

To a large extent, treating those with anxiety disorders is a process of educated trial and error.

Needless to say, severe cases of anxiety disorders can affect your performance at work, making it difficult or impossible to hold down a job for any meaningful period of time.

If you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder which is expected to last a year or more and to affect your ability to perform meaningful work, you should apply for Social Security Disability benefits, preferably with the assistance of a qualified Social Security Disability attorney.

The Social Security Disability claims and appeals process can be lengthy and somewhat stressful.

Those with anxiety disorders should strongly consider retaining a Social Security Disability lawyer right from the beginning of the process.

In addition to improving your chances of having your claim approved, your Social Security Disability lawyer can help make the entire process less mentally and emotionally taxing for you.

Anxiety Disorder and Your Ability to Perform Physical Work

When dealing with anxiety disorders, the Social Security Administration considers the degree to which your condition impairs your ability to perform meaningful work.

Often, the effects of an anxiety disorder on your ability to engage in physical work are not as obvious as physical impairments.

Nevertheless, many who suffer from anxiety disorders are unable to perform physical work for a variety of reasons, and may do ultimately qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.

While most anxiety disorders do not directly affect your ability to push, pull, or lift; and you are ly able to stand or sit for prolonged periods without difficulty, extreme feelings of anxiety can make performing these actions in a work environment impossible. Make sure that all hindrances to your ability to perform physically demanding or repetitive work are fully documented and corroborated by your medical and psychological professionals on your Social Security Disability applications and appeals.

Anxiety Disorder and Your Ability to Perform Sedentary Work

Sedentary work often involves repetitive tasks requiring manual dexterity or regularly dealing with people. Many who suffer from anxiety disorders simply can’t do these types of work successfully.

As with mental restrictions regarding physical work, you will want to make sure that all restrictions regarding your ability to do repetitive work, detailed work, and work that involves working with people are all thoroughly documented when you apply for Social Security Disability benefits.

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits anxiety disorder, you will need to show (and have medically confirmed) that your anxiety causes symptoms such as lack of vigilance, hyperactivity, extreme apprehension, frequent panic attacks, compulsions which cause safety issues, or intrusive memories which cause medically observable distress.

Additionally, these conditions must make it impossible for you to function in a work environment.

While you are entitled to present your claim by yourself, you should consider allowing a Social Security Disability attorney to represent you when making a Social Security Disability claim anxiety disorders as your ability to represent yourself may call into question your inability to handle other work related situations due to your anxiety disorder.


Applying for Disability Benefits with a Mental Illness

Is Anxiety a Disability?

Mental and psychological disabilities are among the conditions that can qualify for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). You may qualify with severe depression, bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder, or another mental illness that prevents you from maintaining gainful employment.

Social Security disability benefits can cover everyday living expenses, medical bills, and other financial obligations. Benefits are paid monthly and can alleviate many of your financial worries, making it possible for you to get by without income from employment.

Benefits for Disabled Adults

The SSA pays disability benefits through two separate programs:

SSDI is available to disabled adult workers who have paid Social Security taxes, while SSI is a need-based program only available to applicants that meet strict limitations on income and asset holdings. If you have never worked due to your mental illness, you will not qualify for SSDI. If you have financial support from friends or family, you will not qualify for SSI.

Basic Eligibility for Benefits

The SSA must see that you meet basic eligibility requirements before further reviewing your application for benefits. This basic eligibility includes having:

  • A formal diagnosis of a potentially disabling condition
  • A diagnosed condition that will disable you for 12 months of longer

After the SSA confirms that you meet basic eligibility, they will then move on to review your medical condition in detail and verify that you meet all program requirements for SSDI and/or SSI.

Medical Qualifying with a Mental Illness

The SSA conducts a detailed review of your medical records to determine your eligibility for benefits. During this review, they try to match your records to a disability listing in the “Blue Book.” The Blue Book is the SSA’s medical guide that is used to evaluate every disability application.

Disability listings outline the severity level requirements and the specific medical evidence needed to support a claim for benefits. Mental illnesses appear in Section 12.00 and include:

  • 12.06, Anxiety-related Disorders – you may qualify under this listing if you have a severe phobia, post-traumatic stress, a panic disorder, or another anxiety-related condition.
  • 12.08, Personality Disorders – this is the listing under which you may qualify if you have severe, clinical depression.
  • 12.04, Affective Disorders – if you have bipolar disorder, your application will be reviewed under this listing.

Extensive medical records are necessary to qualify, including:

  • Information on your diagnosis, ideally from a psychiatrist or psychologist
  • Brain scans or other evidence of physical abnormalities that document an organic cause for symptoms, if applicable
  • Treatment records, documenting medications, therapy, and other management methods used and their effects
  • Thoroughly documented episodes of increased symptoms or periods of decompensation
  • Well documented affects of your symptoms on your everyday abilities or “activities of daily living” (ALDs)

Activities of daily living can include many tasks, from being able to dress yourself, to interacting with others. If you can prove that your mental illness makes it nearly impossible for you to function outside of your place of living, you will have a strong chance of being approved.

For most mental illnesses, you will need to prove that you have been taking medication for two years or more and have not seen any improvement in your condition.

It can be quite challenging to get approved for benefits with a mental illness, especially if you do not precisely meet a Blue Book listing. Be prepared for a tough fight to get approved.

Work closely with your doctor when applying for benefits.

He or she can help you understand Blue Book requirements and can ensure your medical records contain the types of details necessary for the SSA to accurately evaluate your claim for benefits.

For the best chance of getting approved, be sure to gather the following information:

  • ALL medical records. This includes everything from hospitalizations to therapist sessions.
  • Any professional’s opinion on the matter. This can include doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, or anyone else who has helped you with your mental illness.
  • A list of the medications you’ve been taking, whether or not they have improved your symptoms, and the negative side effects you experience from these medications.

Submitting an Application

If you’re applying only for SSDI, you can do so online, or you can apply at the SSA office nearest you. For SSI however, there is no online application available. This is because an interview is part of the standard application process, and must be completed in person, or under some circumstances, via phone.

Visit the SSA’s website to start your application online or call 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment. There are more than 1300 locations across the US, so you are sure to find an office close to you.

After Approval

If you are approved for a mental illness, expect to have your case reviewed every year.

Some applicants with conditions that will clearly not improve, such as paralysis, are reviewed every 7 years or so.

But since mental illnesses can often be treated, you will expect yearly check-ins with the SSA. So long as your condition remains the same year-to-year, you will not later be denied disability benefits.



Anxiety Disorder

Is Anxiety a Disability?

Anxiety disorders affect millions of American adults.

These disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, acute stress disorder, substance-induced anxiety disorder, anxiety disorder due to a general medical condition, anxiety disorder not otherwise specified, panic disorder with or without agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, and specific phobias. Anxiety disorders are clinically distinct from transitional anxiety experienced during events such as a wedding, moving into a new home, dealing with the illness or death of a loved one, or beginning a new job. Individuals with anxiety disorders may experience feelings of panic; extreme physical, mental, or emotional stress; and intense fear. Due to the highly individualized nature of mental health conditions, symptoms can present in numerous ways and significantly impact the functionality of individuals with Anxiety Disorders.

Anxiety Disorder and the Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet.

A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment.

For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).

Accommodating Employees with Anxiety Disorder

People with anxiety may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals.

Be aware that not all people with anxiety will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available.

Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What limitations is the employee experiencing?
  2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
  6. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
  7. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?

Accommodation Ideas:

A large metropolitan police department employed a records specialist who was finding it increasingly difficult to complete the essential functions of his position.

A food service worker with an anxiety disorder works in the kitchen of a restaurant, helping with food preparation and cleaning.

Phillipe travels in person to the HR department of a prospective employer in order to pick up an application for employment to take home and complete.

A postal employee with PTSD requested accommodations to help him deal with recurring flashbacks.

Jude, an applicant with a depression and anxiety, is applying for a customer service position that requires a pre-employment test.

A driver with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) who picks up and delivers clients to various appointments began to forget waiting clients as well as the routes she needed to travel in order to deliver them to the appropriate facility.

A secretary with PTSD, who had been carjacked several years earlier, experienced significant anxiety during commutes after dark.

A counselor with PTSD needed to use a service dog at work to decrease his anxiety.

A customer service representative working in a call center was experiencing limitations associated with generalized anxiety disorder and depression.

A veteran returned to his civilian job as a manager of sales for a small employer.

An insurance agency employee with multiple sclerosis and anxiety requested that the employer permit her to use a service dog on the job for mobility and stress reduction.

A vocational school teacher with PTSD requested accommodations due to anxiety and flashbacks.

A professor with autism spectrum disorder had difficulty keeping daily office hours and experienced anxiety because the timing of students' consultations was unpredictable.

A prison guard, recently attacked by an inmate, has PTSD and anxiety.

An employer was notified that the only supervisor he had in a particular department had a phobia towards a specific group of people.

An employer, trying to accommodate an employee returning to work after a leave, had questions about the stress of required travel that escalated the employee’s depression and anxiety.

An administrative assistant with PTSD works at a museum, which is currently under construction.

A retail manager who travels a fair distance in rush hour traffic asked to be reassigned to a location near her home where she could commute on less traveled local roads that would cause her much less anxiety.

An employee with anxiety and a driving phobia takes public transportation to work.

A veteran who is now an office employee has PTSD and anxiety.


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