Anxiety and Social Security Disability

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Anxiety and Social Security Disability

Anxiety is a common condition in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), more than 30% of U.S. adults have suffered from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Of course, there are many types of anxiety disorders, and anxiety varies in severity. For some, the condition can be debilitating. 

Qualifying for SSDI with Anxiety

The Social Security Blue Book includes listings for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders, but not all anxiety symptoms are sufficient to qualify the affected person for Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits. To qualify for SSDI benefits for anxiety, the applicant must (along with meeting other criteria) suffer from at least three of the following: 

  • Restlessness
  • Becoming fatigued easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance

For panic disorder or agoraphobia, the applicant must establish that they suffer from one or both of: 

  • Panic attacks followed by a persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences
  • Disproportionate fear or anxiety about at least two different situations 

For obsessive-compulsive disorder, the applicant must establish that they suffer from one or both of: 

  • Involuntary, time-consuming preoccupation with intrusive, unwanted thoughts
  • Repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety

Just suffering from these symptoms isn’t sufficient to qualify for SSDI, though. Many people have anxiety disorders characterized by these and other symptoms but don’t suffer severe enough impairment to be considered disabled. In addition to the requirements listed above, someone pursuing Social Security disability benefits for an anxiety disorder must also fulfill one of two additional sets of criteria, known as Paragraph B and Paragraph C requirements.

Paragraph B Requirements for Anxiety Disorders

Paragraph B requirements are satisfied if the applicant experiences extreme limitation of one of the following or marked limitation of two: 

  • Understanding, remembering, and applying information
  • Interacting with others
  • Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace
  • Adapting or managing oneself

Each of these criteria has its own detailed definition. An experienced Social Security disability benefits advocate can help you understand what each of the mental functions listed means and what may be considered an extreme or marked limitation of those functions. 

If these specific criteria are not met, the applicant may still qualify if Paragraph C requirements are fulfilled. 

Paragraph C Requirements for Anxiety Disorders

Paragraph C requirements are met if your condition is “serious and persistent,” but that term has a very specific meaning to the Social Security Administration (SSA). For a condition to be considered serious and persistent, you must:

  • Have a documented medical history of the condition dating back at least two years, and
  • Show evidence of ongoing treatment, a structured environment, or psychosocial supports that mitigate your symptoms, and
  • Minimal capacity to adapt to changes or demands that are not already part of your daily life

What if My Anxiety Condition Doesn’t Meet the Blue Book Criteria?

The SSA recognizes that they can’t possibly imagine and put into a listing every single combination of symptoms that may be disabling. So, while a wide range of conditions are listed in the Blue Book with criteria that clearly qualifies an applicant, that analysis isn’t the end of the road. If the applicant’s condition doesn’t meet or equal a listed disability, the SSA will consider the individual’s “residual functional capacity” for engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA)

What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

The SSA says work is “substantial” if it involves significant physical or mental activities or a combination of the two. That work is considered “gainful” if it is:

  • Performed for pay or profit, 
  • Of a type that is usually performed for pay or profit, or
  • Intended for profit, whether or not a profit is actually realized

The SSA sets forth a threshold amount of income that is considered SGA. In 2023, that amount is $1,470 for most applicants and $2,460 for applicants who are blind. Those numbers are adjusted every year. But, as you can see from the bulleted list above, simply earning below the threshold doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be found to be engaging in substantial gainful activity. For example, you might have opted to work 30 hours/week for free in a business owned by a relative–you aren’t making money, but the work is of a type usually performed for pay, so could still be considered gainful. Similarly, you could be investing significant time in building a business that has not yet generated any profit and still be considered to be engaged in SGA. 

What is Residual Functional Capacity? 

It’s also important to note that you don’t have to be currently engaged in SGA to be deemed capable of it. The SSA is interested in what you can do, not just what you are doing. That’s where residual functional capacity comes in. It’s a complex term, but it simply means what you are able to do in spite of whatever limitations your condition causes. 

An SSDI claim based on limited residual functional capacity to engage in substantial gainful activity is typically more complicated than one based on Blue Book criteria. Though both require medical documentation. However, with the listed conditions it’s clear exactly what the medical records must establish. In a residual functional capacity case, it’s up to the applicant to assemble sufficient documentation to support the necessary degree of limitation, without a clear indication of the type of information the SSA is looking for. 

This is where a seasoned disability benefits advocate can really help. 

Talk to a Disability Benefits Advocate Right Away

Getting approved for SSDI for mental health conditions like anxiety can be a battle. And, it’s all the more difficult if you aren’t sure exactly what type of information you should be providing or what type of documentation will be needed. An experienced disability advocate can help with that, from explaining exactly what the Blue Book criteria require and what type of evidence will best support your claim to helping determine which elements of your medical history are relevant to establishing that your residual functional capacity is limited. 


To learn more about how Disability Help Group can help you put together the strongest application or appeal possible, call (800) 800-3332 right now, or fill out our contact form.

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