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Social Security Disability Benefits For Anxiety Disorders
I have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Can I apply for Social Security Disability benefits (SSI/SSDI), Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), or Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI)?
If your doctor gave you a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, this is just the start. The main focus in a Social Security disability claim is usually on the symptoms you experience from anxiety disorder and how those symptoms affect your ability to engage in physical and mental work-related activities eight (8) hours per day, five (5) days per week.
“Anxiety disorder” refers to any of the mental conditions characterized by substantial feelings of anxiety or fear. Unlike normal temporary anxiety, these feelings are recurring and they are so strong that they involve physical symptoms like shakiness and increased heart rate.
Is anxiety disorder considered a disability?
There are various types of anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has symptoms that can last for months, including excessive worries, being on edge, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems. Another type is panic disorder, which shows in “panic attacks” involving palpitations, pounding heart, and shortness of breath. Still another type is social anxiety disorder, where an excessive fear of social situations causes symptoms like sweating, trembling, and feeling nauseous around other people.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a five-step evaluation process to decide if you are disabled by your anxiety disorder.
Step 1. Are you working?
First, the SSA reviews your work activity. If you are engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), you will not be found disabled. The amount you must earn to be working at SGA changes each year. For 2018, it is $1,180 per month if you are not blind and $1,970 per month if you are blind. If you are working, and your earnings average more than the SGA limit, then you will not be found disabled. If you are not working, or your earnings are less than SGA, the process proceeds to Step 2 where your anxiety disorder and any other physical or mental conditions are more closely assessed.
Step 2. Is your medical condition “severe”?
Disability primarily means that your medical condition significantly limits your ability to do basic work activities such as sitting; standing; walking; lifting; carrying; understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions; making simple work-related decisions; responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work stress; and dealing with changes in a routine work setting.
To be found disabled by SSA standards, you must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or a combination of impairments) that is severe and has lasted or is expected last one (1) year or end in death. If your medical condition is not that severe, you will not be found to meet the requirements for Social Security disability benefits. If your condition is that severe, the SSA goes to Step 3.
Step 3. Does your medical condition meet or equal the severity of a Listing?
There is a list maintained by the Social Security Administration containing medical criteria that are considered to be so severe that you will be found disabled if your medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) matches them. The Adult Listing for anxiety disorders can be found here.
If none of your impairments meets or equals one of the listings or the duration requirement is not met, the SSA determines what you’re capable of doing despite your impairments – your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) – and will proceed to Step 4.
Determining the RFC involves a function-by-function assessment of your maximum ability to do sustained work-related physical and mental activities on a regular and continuing basis (8 hours a day, for 5 days a week) despite the limitations and restrictions resulting from your medically determinable impairments. In short, it is an evaluation of your capacity for full-time work.
Step 4. Can you do any of the jobs you have performed in the past fifteen (15) years?
The SSA now determines whether your medical condition prevents you from being able to work full-time at jobs you have done in the past fifteen (15) years. If the SSA decides you can perform any of your past relevant work (PRW), you will be found not disabled. To be PRW, the work must have been substantial gainful activity (SGA); performed in the fifteen (15) year relevant period; and performed long enough to learn the job. If the SSA decides you cannot perform your past relevant work, or you have not worked in the past fifteen (15) years, the SSA goes on to Step 5.
You have the “burden of proof” or the obligation to present evidence at Step 4. Two of the strongest types of evidence at this stage are medical records and the opinions of the doctors who are treating you for the conditions that are affecting your ability to work. The strongest medical evidence is what is known as objective medical evidence, or evidence that does not rely upon what you tell your doctors. The strongest opinions are opinions that are offered by doctors who specialize in the condition that is keeping you from working and which are supported by objective medical evidence.
These are some types of objective medical evidence that can support a claim for disability based upon anxiety disorders:
- Medical history
- Records of any mental status examination
- Records of psychological testing
- Records of hospitalizations and treatment
In terms of specialists’ opinions, these are some doctors and professionals who specialize in treating anxiety disorder:
- Psychiatrists – These medical doctors can both prescribe medication and offer psychotherapy.
- Psychologists – These doctors focus mainly on psychotherapy or talk therapy.
- Social workers, therapists, and counselors – These are not doctors but trained professionals who provide talk therapy.
It’s important to consult a specialist for your condition. If you are only treating with your family doctor or primary care doctor for your anxiety disorder, the SSA may interpret this as meaning that your condition is not that serious (otherwise you would be treating with a specialist). Even if you don’t have health insurance, an experienced Social Security disability lawyer can help you locate sources of treatment
Step 5. Can you do any other type of work?
The “burden of proof” is on the SSA at this stage. If you cannot do your past relevant work, the SSA looks to see if you would be able to do other work. It evaluates your medical condition, your age, education, past work experience, and any skills you may have that could be used to do other work. If you can do other work, the SSA will determine you are not disabled. But if you cannot do other work, the SSA will find you disabled.
Are you over 50? There are special rules that may apply to your claim that can result in a finding of disability even if there is some other work you could perform on a full-time basis. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer will be familiar with these rules and can ensure that they are considered in the evaluation of your case.
Can I get a disability check for anxiety?
While some people may dismiss your anxiety disorder as normal and temporary, you know how significantly this condition can restrict you. It hinders your ability to work and to enjoy your life, and the treatment it requires can take a toll on your finances.
Contact Gillette Law Group
Don’t be discouraged from applying for disability benefits. You can pursue an application that is more likely to get approved by the SSA, with our help at the Gillette Law Group. We have helped many disability claimants succeed, whether in first-time applications or in appeals. We can work with you to make your claim highly effective.
Your consultation with us is free, so talk to us today. Call us at (855) 873-2604.