When you struggle with anxiety (or panic attacks), it can be extremely difficult to hold down a job. While treatment helps many get back into the workforce, sometimes it’s not enough. With that, you may wonder, “is anxiety a disability?”
The simple answer is yes, anxiety is a disability. In fact, 1.1. million workers had received benefits for anxiety (or other mental health issues) in 2021.
However, qualifying for benefits due to anxiety isn’t so simple. Throughout this article, we’ll take a deeper look at anxiety and how you may qualify. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What Makes Anxiety a Disability?
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), anxiety is a disability that may prevent someone from working. ¹ However, even with this statement, those with anxiety may struggle to get monthly disability benefits through the SSA.
The reason being the SSA’s loose definition (and strict criteria) of an anxiety disorder. Simply put, the SSA recognizes that the excessive worry or fear that comes with anxiety may inhibit a person’s life. Furthermore, they recognize that this may cause avoidance patterns in certain individuals.
These behaviors are a direct result of common anxiety symptoms, which include: ²
- Constant fear about one’s safety
- Difficulty sleeping
- Inability to concentrate
On top of this, the SSA defines different types of anxiety disorders as disabilities, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive-personality disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
How to Get Disability for Anxiety
Since the SSA’s criteria for anxiety disorder benefits is generalized, it can be difficult for some people to garner these benefits. On top of this, you will need documented proof of your condition.
The SSA has a set of criteria for anxiety disorders. In order to gain this disability, you must:
1. Prove you have an anxiety disorder AND
2a. Prove your anxiety greatly inhibits your mental abilities.
2b. Prove you’ve received anxiety treatment for at least two years with no positive outcome.
We invite you to follow along as we go into more detail about this criteria.
1.) Prove You Have an Anxiety Disorder
Proving you have an anxiety disorder ultimately comes down to whether or not you have a diagnosis. When it comes to GAD or SAD, you must have 3 of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Easily fatigued
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances
In terms of OCD, you must experience one (or both) of the following: ³
- Spend an involuntary amount of time on intrusive thoughts
- Engage in repetitive and ritualistic behaviors (to reduce intrusive thoughts)
When it comes to panic disorders or phobias, you must experience one (or both) of the following: ⁴
- You experience panic attacks while also worrying about additional panic attacks
- You experience significant anxiety in two different situations (i.e. using public transport or being in a confined space)
2a. Prove Your Anxiety Greatly Inhibits Your Mental Abilities
When evaluating your mental function, the SSA will look into 4 factors:
- Your ability to understand, remember, or apply information
- How you interact with others
- Your ability to concentrate
- How you adapt to changes and manage yourself
If your medical records show that your anxiety greatly inhibits at least one of these factors, you’ll be eligible for disability. However, keep in mind that you will need clear evidence of this inhibition in order to qualify.
2b. Proved You’ve Received Anxiety Treatment For at Least Two Years With No Positive Outcome
This piece of criteria is pretty straight forward. Still, it’s worth considering that the SSA will look into the following when evaluating your medical records:
- Your anxiety has persisted for at least two years.
- Throughout that time, you’ve had ongoing medical treatment (this includes therapy).
- Even with your treatment, you’re unable to adapt to changes in your daily life.
In order to meet this criteria, it’s vital you’ve had persistent care throughout this time. If your treatment was inconsistent, the SSA may deny your benefits.
How to Apply if Your Anxiety Meets the Critera
If you’ve met the above criteria, you’ll want to apply for disability benefits as soon as possible. The simple reason being you likely won’t get potential benefits for some time.
In order to speed up the process, it helps to know what kind of benefits you’re applying for. On top of this, you have Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) at your availability if you’ve worked for at least 5 to 10 years.
What to Do if Your Anxiety Does NOT Meet the Criteria
Even if your anxiety doesn’t meet the criteria, you can still apply for disability benefits. Beyond meeting the criteria, the most important factor of this process is proving that your anxiety is preventing you from work.
Admittedly, you shouldn’t have your hopes up. The SSA has strict guidelines for anxiety benefits. So much so that even those who do meet the criteria may have trouble with the process. Still, it’s worth taking the shot.
So, is anxiety a disability? While we’ve answered that it is, you may still have futher questions.
In such cases, we invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Social Security Administration: Disability Evaluation Under Social Security: 12.00 Mental Disorders – Adult
² National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Anxiety Disorders
³ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
⁴ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Panic Disorder