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Does an Anxiety Disorder Qualify Me for Social Security Benefits?

While everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life, some people suffer from serious anxiety disorders that can hamper their quality of life. In some cases, these disorders can be severe enough to make working a full-time job impossible; the Social Security Administration awards benefits to people that they find disabled due to severe anxiety disorders.

Generalized anxiety disorder is a common form of anxiety disorder that isn't based on fear of a single object or event. Symptoms can include:

  • Excessive anxiety or worry, lasting at least 6 months and happening more days than not
  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • restlessness or feeling "keyed up" or "on edge"
  • being easily fatigued
  • difficulty concentrating/mind going blank
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep)

Panic disorder, unlike generalized anxiety, means that you suffer from intense episodes of extreme anxiety (lasting between 1-20 minutes, though some can require medical intervention, and some people experience waves of panic attacks). Common symptoms of a panic episode include:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • trembling
  • uncontrollable fear
  • hyperventilation
  • sensation of choking
  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • numbness or tingling
  • chills or hot flashes
  • sense of altered reality
  • thoughts of impending doom

People who suffer from panic disorder may experience symptoms of a panic attack even outside of these episodes.

Phobia - an intense, irrational fear - can affect people in several ways. Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, results from a crippling fear of social situations and leads people to avoid these situations or have panic attacks while in such situations. Specific phobias result from a single panic trigger, such as spiders or elevators, and lead to the person avoiding these triggers or reacting to them with a panic attack.

Agoraphobia is a fear of being in an open environment or one in which you have little control. It can be triggered by open spaces, crowds, or simply by being outside of a comfort area such as the home. Some people with agoraphobia may refuse to leave the house even in emergency situations, and suffer panic attacks if forced to go beyond the comfort area.

Another common anxiety disorder which can vary widely in its severity is obsessive-compulsive disorder. Symptoms include:

  • recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are intrusive/inappropriate
  • thoughts causing severe anxiety or distress
  • thoughts are not just extra worries about real-life concerns
  • the sufferer knows that these thoughts are products of the mind, rather than reality
  • repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the person feels "must" be performed
  • repetitive behaviors for unrelated consequences, i.e. washing hands to keep an airplane flying, or for excessive results, i.e. washing hands to cure a chronic illness
  • a realization that these thoughts and compulsions are unreasonable or excessive

Some people may suffer from obsessive thoughts without the linked compulsive behaviors.

Anxiety disorders are included in the Social Security Listings of Impairments, which means that if your illness has been diagnosed by a qualified medical practitioner and is severe enough to keep you from working, you have an excellent chance of receiving benefits. However, because there are no medical tests for these mental illnesses, it is vital that you see a psychologist or psychiatrist who can support your application.

Improving Your Chances for Obtaining Benefits

It's particularly important to see a psychologist or psychiatrist who can document the progression of your illness, because this can sometimes be the only official record of your anxiety disorder. If you live with or frequently see family members or friends, ask them to document your behavior over time as well. Since severity is the key to determining whether or not your anxiety disorder qualifies you for benefits, tracking the frequency of panic attacks or other episodes can help your case.

  1. Keep a detailed medical history, including a calendar of notes about how you feel each day;
  2. Record any usual activities you could not do on any given day.
  3. Keep a detailed history of your current and past medications;
  4. See a health care professional regularly and take the medication that he/she gives you so that he/she can support your application for benefits.
  5. Ask your doctor or other health care professional to track the course of your symptoms and to keep a record of any evidence of fatigue, irritability, forgetfulness, unusual behavior, or other hard-to-document symptoms.
  6. Keep records of how your illness affected you on the job.

Helpful Links:

US Social Security Administration official listing for : Anxiety Related Disorders

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