Can You Get Disability for Anxiety Disorders?

Read up on how Social Security evaluates disability claims based on generalized anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Anxiety disorders can be socially limiting, and sometimes they can disrupt your life so much that it becomes impossible to work. Anxiety disorders involving phobias, panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and generalized anxiety can qualify for Social Security disability benefits if they're well documented and severely debilitating.

Who Can Get Disability Benefits for Anxiety?

You might qualify for benefits if you've been diagnosed with one of the above disorders and it affects your ability to:

Some anxiety and nervousness are, unfortunately, a part of many people's modern, stressful lives. Often people refer to having a "case of the nerves" that upsets them and doesn't go away. To qualify for Social Security disability benefits for an anxiety disorder, your symptoms must go beyond normal stress. To get benefits, you have to be able to show that your symptoms:

  • are chronic (and will last for at least 12 months)
  • meet one of several specific medical diagnoses related to anxiety, and
  • severely and negatively impact your ability to function in life.

Anxiety disorders are listed in Social Security's Blue Book listing of impairments. To determine if your anxiety disorder truly prevents you from doing any kind of work, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will compare your impairment to its listing. If you meet the listing requirements, you'll automatically be considered disabled.

How Does Social Security Evaluate Anxiety Disorders?

Before paying benefits, the SSA requires a mental disorder to be so severe that it disrupts your life to a point where you become unable to work at any type of job (no matter how "low pressure" it might be). In addition to fitting within a specific diagnosis (outlined below), your anxiety disorder must cause severe limitations in some of the following areas:

  • understanding and remembering instructions and learning new things
  • interacting appropriately with others
  • concentrating on and completing tasks, and
  • managing yourself and your daily needs (handling change, practicing good hygiene, and being able to cook, shop, and pay bills).

You might also be able to qualify for disability benefits without currently having severe limitations in the above areas. For instance, you might still qualify if your anxiety has improved with medication or psychosocial support, but you could experience a setback if you go back to work. To qualify in that case, you must have had severe anxiety for at least two years and you must rely on a support system that you can't live without, such as social workers or family members who make sure you don't get overwhelmed.

Which Anxiety Disorders Can Qualify for Disability?

It's possible to get disability benefits for mental health conditions, but getting the proper diagnosis is a crucial first step. Your doctor will have to submit medical evidence of your diagnosis, consisting of psychological tests and documentation of symptoms. Here are five types of anxiety disorders that can sometimes qualify you for disability benefits:

  • generalized persistent anxiety
  • agoraphobia
  • panic attacks
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder, or
  • post-traumatic stress disorder.

Generalized Persistent Anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a fairly common disorder characterized by chronic fearfulness, apprehension, and stress. While many people experience a mild amount of stress, worry, or fear, to qualify as a disability, the SSA needs to see that your generalized anxiety has profound physical or emotional effects on your body. Your anxiety disorder must be characterized by three or more of the following:

  • restlessness
  • getting fatigued easily
  • difficulty concentrating
  • becoming easily irritated
  • muscle tension, or
  • sleep disturbance.


A phobia is a persistent extreme or irrational fear of a situation, activity, or place—like the fear of driving over bridges (gephyrophobia), the fear of heights (acrophobia), or the fear of leaving the house (agoraphobia). A phobia causes a compelling need to avoid the feared situation or activity.

Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, an intense feeling of fear about and avoidance of interacting with others, can fall into this subcategory. To rise to the level of a disability, Social Security requires that you have a disproportionate fear or anxiety about at least two different situations. For example, your social phobia might be disabling if it makes you fearful of two or more of the following:

  • using public transportation
  • being in a crowd
  • standing in a line
  • leaving your home, or
  • being in open spaces.

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are characterized by sudden periods of intense fear along with physical symptoms such as sweating, increased heart rate, and shaking. Many people have experienced mild anxiety attacks but manage them with medication or therapy.

To rise to the level of a disability, Social Security requires that you have severe panic attacks followed by a persistent concern or worry about having additional panic attacks in the future or a fear of their consequences.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by repeated unwanted thoughts that compel a person to try to relieve them by performing repetitive tasks, such as constant cleaning or checking. The involuntary thoughts are often about germs, violence, religion, or sex. To qualify for benefits for OCD, the SSA requires that, even with treatment, you have either:

  • an involuntary, time-consuming preoccupation with intrusive, unwanted thoughts, or
  • repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a reaction to a traumatic event that you experienced or witnessed, such as rape, physical abuse, killings, or natural disasters. PTSD causes recurrent flashback episodes and dreams that can disrupt day-to-day activity. Some forms of PTSD include an exaggerated startle response and hypervigilance.

To qualify for disability, the SSA requires that even with treatment, you have medical documentation of all of the following:

  • exposure to the threat of death, serious injury, violence, or someone else's death (the traumatic event that caused your PTSD)
  • involuntary re-experiencing of the traumatic event (such as having intrusive memories, dreams, or flashbacks)
  • avoidance of external reminders of the event
  • disturbance in mood and behavior, and
  • increases in arousal and reactivity (such as having an exaggerated startle response or sleep disturbance).

Symptoms Affecting Your Functional Capacity

If you don't qualify under one of Social Security's impairment listings, you might still be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. As part of the disability determination process, the SSA will consider your symptoms and limitations to see the extent to which they affect your daily activities and if they prevent you from doing even the most low-stress jobs.

The SSA will give you a rating of the type of work it thinks you can do based on your limitations and job skills. This is called your "residual functional capacity" (RFC). Your RFC will indicate if you can perform:

  • skilled work
  • semi-skilled work
  • unskilled work, or
  • less than unskilled work.

For anxiety disorders, the key question is whether you can do even unskilled work without much stress. If your disorder sometimes keeps you from leaving the house or interacting with people appropriately, Social Security might consider those limitations disabling. (But if your disorder is that severe, your condition would likely fit into one of the SSA's impairment listings for anxiety, agoraphobia, OCD, or PTSD.)

How to Start Your Disability Claim

You can begin your disability application even if you don't know whether you're eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI is for workers who've paid enough taxes into Social Security, and SSI is for low-income filers. When you apply for one, you're automatically applying for both disability programs.

You can apply online for Social Security disability benefits for your anxiety disorder. You can complete the online application from anywhere and pause and restart the process as often as necessary. You can also call the SSA at 800-772-1213 (TTY: 800-325-0778) to set up an appointment to apply for disability by phone or at your local Social Security office.

When you fill out your application, include a detailed description of what an episode of intense anxiety (for example, panic attacks or OCD, PTSD, or phobic episodes) looks like for you. Be sure to include:

  • how often you have them and
  • how they impair your ability to work.

If you have both an anxiety disorder and a physical impairment that keeps you from working, your case could be more complicated. You should consider hiring a disability lawyer to help you file your claim—especially if you aren't sure whether your condition matches a listing. A lawyer can also help with your appeal if your initial claim gets denied.

Do You Qualify for Disability in Your State?
Find out in minutes by taking our short quiz.

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Boost Your Chance of Being Approved

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Our experts have helped thousands like you get cash benefits.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you