Legal Guide

Can I get social security for Depression and Anxiety?

Millions of Americans struggle with some form of mental illness, and these can have a number of effects on your quality of life. Some people struggle with day-to-day activities, while others are so debilitated that they cannot hold down a job. If that is the case it may be worth looking into whether or not you qualify for social security benefits. 

Receiving social security or disability benefits for depression and anxiety will depend on the severity of your symptoms. These symptoms include feelings of panic and fear, obsessive or intrusive thought patterns, recurring nightmares, incessant worrying, irritability, insomnia, exhaustion, problems focusing, and a hyper awareness towards perceived or imaginary threats. These are only a few of the psychological symptoms; the physical symptoms include increased or irregular heart rate, sweating, shaking, nausea, tense muscles, and other uncomfortable physical reactions to stress. Anxiety disorders are different from normal feelings of stress, in that the symptoms are intrusive, coming and going from one moment to the next, or persisting for long periods of time. 

Anxiety disorders manifest in different forms, and each diagnosis can inform your social security disability claim in different ways. Generalized anxiety disorders are ones marked by six months of a constant state of tension or worry that is unrelated to anything you encounter on a daily basis. Panic disorders are marked by repeated and unprovoked anxiety attacks lasting up to ten minutes. Social anxiety disorders are anxiety with a phobia of being negatively judged by other people. These irrational fears of other people are so overwhelming that they cause the sufferer to avoid social situations. One extreme form is agoraphobia, where the sufferer fears leaving their home in the event of some kind of catastrophe. Obsessive compulsive disorder is characterized by frequent intrusive and irrational thoughts and behaviors that the sufferer believes can be mollified by performing certain repetitive behaviors.

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a severe mental illness with some overlapping symptomology with anxiety disorders. In severe cases, the hopelessness brought about by this condition can make it difficult for people to find work or hold down a job. It is worsened by depressed moods, decreasing interest in activities, poor appetite or overeating, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, slowed movements and reactions (including speech patterns or physical agitation, like hand wringing or pacing), and thoughts of suicide. These feelings persist for long periods, often months or years.

As mentioned above, qualifying for social security disability benefits with an anxiety or depression diagnosis depends on the number and severity of your symptoms. The Social Security administration laid out a new standard for anxiety impairments in 2017, where an individual must have a diagnosis that is attended by three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Frequent bouts of fatigue

Additionally, you must meet what is called a “functional” criteria, meaning that you have to show that you have a loss of abilities due to your symptoms, things like cognitive impairment, inability to function properly in social settings, difficulty completing tasks, or a loss of practical skills (day to day activities like paying bills, dressing, or hygiene).

The Social Security administration has similar standards for depression. If you review the paragraph that lists depression symptoms, you need to show that you have at least five of the symptoms, while also proving that you have an extreme limitation in accordance with the functional criteria listed above.

When filing your claim, you will have to consult a psychiatrist or psychologist to evaluate and verify that you are suffering from anxiety or depression. You can and should use documentation from former bosses or co-workers, family members, social workers, or anyone who can attest to the difficulties you have had with maintaining employment or a standard quality of life. 

Note that the standard of proof is high, and people who may not meet the standards set may still find that they are unable to work. And from the date of application to the determination of whether or not you receive benefits is a months long process. This is why it is important to have a local disability lawyer in Birmingham or wherever you live file your application for you. This way you can ensure it is filled out appropriately and that you have the best chance of getting approved.

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