Gesmer & Reynolds, P.C.

When anxiety becomes disabling, SSDI or SSI may be a safety net

Anyone who has experienced anxiety that has risen to the level of a medical disorder knows that its not "just stress." Our society has come a long way in understanding and recognizing that anxiety can be a medical condition with severe symptoms and a sometimes-devastating impact on quality of life and even on daily functioning.

Anxiety presents itself in several forms, but the common theme is persistent, intrusive feelings of worry, dread, fear, doom or terror that can be incapacitating. Typically, the high level of stress is out of proportion to the seriousness of the cause of the worry.

The resulting inertia and other symptoms can keep the victim from engaging in daily activities and meeting responsibilities at home and at work. The person may socially isolate themselves and have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. They also might avoid certain situations and places that they know bring on symptoms.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, anxiety disorders mainly fall into five types:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder or GAD
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD
  • Social phobia or social anxiety disorder

Some other common symptoms that occur with anxiety include depression, GI problems, headaches, chronic pain, restlessness, sweating, insomnia and fatigue, substance abuse, panic attacks, elevated heart and breathing rates, trembling, weakness and others.

When anxiety alone or in combination with other impairments prevents someone from meaningful work, they should investigate whether they may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, known as SSDI or SSI respectively. These are federal disability benefit programs administered by the Social Security Administration or SSA.

SSDI is public disability insurance based on disability plus a robust work record. SSI is a cash benefit for people who are disabled (or elderly or blind) without enough work history for SSDI qualification who also have low income and assets. SSA defines disability under these programs as having a severe medical physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments expected to last a year or result in death and that prevent meaningful work.

Anxiety is on the SSA's Listing of Impairments (Listing 12.06), a list of conditions that are so serious that if a claimant meets or equals the medical criteria described under a listing, they are automatically found to be disabled. If a person's anxiety symptoms do not meet the listing, the agency will go on to analyze whether the medical limitations of anxiety and other impairments plus other vocational factors like age, skill level and education prevent the person from working.

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