Individuals can receive Social Security disability benefits if they can prove an inability to perform what SSA calls “substantial gainful employment.” Being “disabled” usually provokes images of physical impairments, such as back injuries or heart conditions, but the fact is that one can also be disabled because of a mental condition, such as an anxiety disorder.
“Anxiety disorder” can be defined as a disorder of the nervous system affecting your emotional state and which causes fearful and irrational emotions. In other words, worries which do not have their basis in factual information. A number of different disorders are covered under this definition of an anxiety disorder, including: Obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.
The cause for these disorders is not completely understood; they may be related to the brain’s neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and serotonin, but they may also be related to a number of other factors, such as biological processes, the environment, genetics, and life experiences. The symptoms are varied and include: breathing difficulties, irritability, stomach aches, muscle tension, diarrhea, sweaty palms, feeling distracted or on edge, headaches and panic attacks.
What exactly are panic attacks? They can be described as short episodes of psychological distress or extreme fear. Symptoms include the following: shortness of breath, palpitations of the heart, sweating, choking, hyperventilation and paresthesia (that is, tingling sensations). An individual may think that he or she is losing their mind, having a heart attack or dying. Panic attacks can lead to additional complications, such as substance abuse, depression, medical abnormalities, and phobias. Treatment may involve medication and counseling. Severe or recurrent attacks may lead to nervous exhaustion, agoraphobia (being unable to leave one’s house) and difficulty or inability to obtain or hold a job.
Social Security Benefits
So, when are anxiety disorders or panic attacks serious enough to qualify an individual for Social Security disability benefits? In general, one must prove that they have:
- Attacks that occur frequently (weekly or more often),
- Which involve fear, terror and apprehension, that
- Are unpredictable and sudden, and
- Cause serious problems related to necessary daily activities, focusing on tasks, leaving one’s home, or social functioning.
Also, medical documentation if the symptoms of the disorder is very important. The documentation would include treatment notes from a health care professional (such as a counselor or therapist) or psychiatrist. The notes should describe the nature of your panic attacks or other symptoms, their frequency, length, and cause. They should also describe your medications and the limitations on your activities of daily living that your symptoms cause. If you do not meet these requirements (for example if your attacks are not frequent), you may still qualify for disability benefits, in the form of a “medical-vocational allowance,” if you are limited in the types of work you are able to perform.
Seeing a Lawyer
Securing Social Security disability benefits for anxiety disorders is a complicated process. There must be proof of symptoms, causation, and effects on your ability to perform day to day activities. If you suspect that you suffer from an anxiety disorder or have been diagnosed with one of these conditions, and you find yourself unable to work, it is important that you immediately contact an experienced Social Security disability attorney.
Your attorney will study your medical records and ask your treating doctor or therapist to complete a “functional capacity” form that assesses your symptoms and functional limitations. This form will include the functional limitations that are set out in the Social Security regulations. Armed with this and other documentation, the attorney will lead you through the process for applying for and receiving the disability benefits to which you may be entitled.
Our law firm focuses exclusively on Social Security disability law. To learn more about the SSDI and SSI programs and how we can improve your chance for success, contact the Philadelphia Social Security Disability attorneys of the Disability and Injury Law Offices of David R. Machek for a free consultation at: 215-886-0398 or at: http://www.disabilitylawpa.com