Social Security’s definition of disability is “any medically determinable mental or medical impairment that has prevented an individual from performing substantial work for twelve months, is expected to prevent an individual from working for twelve continuous months, or is expected to end with death”. Certain chronic physical conditions lead to mental impairments such as anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression may not be severe enough to make a candidate eligible for social security benefits. However, when these concerns are considered alongside a severe physical impairment, they may help establish a claim.
The medical evidence for anxiety disorders is mostly based on criteria that are difficult to document such as external symptoms that may occur outside the physician’s office and is usually reported by the patient to the physician. Subjective evidence such as this may not be sufficient for the SSD to allow a disability claim. However, when representing a claimant who is applying for disability benefits caused by an anxiety disorder, a social security disability lawyer would focus on collecting and presenting medical records that contain a detailed history of treatment by the claimant’s physician, a qualified mental health professional and other medical professionals involved in the treatment. Such records would help to prove the recurrent or persistent nature of the particular mental disorder.
To qualify for disability benefits under anxiety-related disorders, the applicant’s medical records must establish the following:
- Generalized anxiety disorder that is persistent with any three of these four symptoms: autonomic hyperactivity, apprehensive expectation, motor tension, vigilance and scanning.
- Persistent unreasonable fear of an object, situation or activity that leads to a predominant desire to avoid that object, situation or activity.
- Severe panic attacks that recur and are characterized by intense fear, terror, apprehension and a sense of approaching doom, occurring at least once a week.
- Repetitive obsessions or compulsions that create notable distress.
- Repetitive remembrances of a painful experience that cause considerable distress.
The above mentioned conditions should result in at least two of the following or result in the applicant’s total inability to function independently outside his/her home.
- Significant problems in maintaining concentration
- Marked difficulties with persistence, or pace
- Recurrent periods of decompensation, each of extended duration
- Significant difficulties maintaining social functioning or difficulty in carrying out routine activities of daily life.
Social Security would need a complete list of all the medications the applicant is taking for anxiety/depression. They would also require details of the treating physician, the dosages, whether the claimant has experienced any side effects and so on. In addition, details regarding any therapist the claimant may be seeing, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist would also be needed. Social Security would have to consider how a claimant’s psychological symptoms are affecting his/her ability to work.
As mentioned at the outset, it may be difficult to establish total disability based on anxiety disorder because of the condition’s extremely subjective nature, but medical professionals involved in the claimant’s treatment and a qualified and experienced social security disability lawyer/attorney can work closely to gather and present the appropriate medical documentation to effectively support the applicant’s disability claim and ensure that a strong case is presented.