Can I Work with Anxiety Disorders?

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 likely 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 based on 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 based on 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.

Is Anxiety a Disability?

The answer to the question, “Is anxiety a disability” depends on the type of anxiety, as well as the severity of the symptoms. An anxiety disorder can be considered a disability if the applicant can prove the severity with medical documentation. For patients that suffer from acute anxiety, the symptoms go well beyond nervousness,
Healthcare providers diagnose five broad categories of anxiety:

  • Phobias
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The Social Security Administration (SSA) refers to a medical guide called the Blue Book that lists the anxiety conditions that qualify applicants for disability benefits. Not only does an anxiety disorder have to list in the Blue Book, but you also have to meet the severity of symptoms standards established by the SSA.

Can You Get Disability for Anxiety?

You can receive disability benefits for anxiety. To do so, you must have serious anxiety to meet the standards published in the Blue Book. The symptoms of your anxiety must be serious enough to prevent you from working your current job.

You must have missed or expect to miss work for 12 consecutive months to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Because many cases of anxiety have symptoms that come and go, you might miss work for a few months and then return when the acute anxiety symptoms dissipate.

The SSA lists anxiety disorders under Section 12.06 of the Blue Book. When you file a claim for Social Security disability benefits, you must submit persuasive medical evidence that your condition has made it impossible to hold down a job.

You should submit the results of diagnostic tests, as well as a detailed description of treatments and counseling sessions. Because of the subjective nature of a diagnosis for an anxiety disorder, getting approved for a claim can be difficult to do.

You must submit documentation that demonstrates you suffer from generalized anxiety, which has produced motor tension, apprehensive expectations, and autonomic hyperactivity. Your healthcare provider must show your anxiety has triggered irrational fears of encountering normal daily situations. Constant panic attacks that develop unexpectedly are another sign of acute anxiety. Recurring memories of traumatic experiences and compulsions that cause emotional distress also represent signs you suffer from a medically qualifying type of anxiety.

Completing a Residual Functional Capacity Assessment for Anxiety

Since the SSA denies a majority of the claims it receives for anxiety disorders, you might have to undergo a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment to determine the seriousness of your anxiety symptoms. For an anxiety disorder, you undergo an RFC to determine what type of work you can do while struggling with severe anxiety symptoms. This might mean working from home or taking frequent breaks throughout the day to slow down your thought process.

The goal of the SSA is to find work for every applicant that receives disability benefits. An RFC assessment represents the tool used by the SSA to discover the best occupation for you to work while dealing with anxiety symptoms.

How to Start a Disability Claim for Anxiety

You can call the SSA at 800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment for filing a disability claim. When you fill out a claim, include a detailed description of an acute anxiety attack and how it negatively impacts your job performance. Working with a Social Security disability attorney can help you file the most persuasive claim.

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