Is Anxiety a Disability?

How to Qualify for Social Assistance If You Have SAD

Things to know about claiming disability with anxiety

Verywell / Laura Porter

In the United States, the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers benefits for people with disabilities. The program provides monetary assistance to individuals who meet the requirements for disability insurance.

Anxiety disorders fall under the umbrella of disability. If you are coping with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and are unable to work, you may qualify for assistance.

What Is Social Assistance?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are the two largest governmental programs that provide financial assistance to people who have disabilities.

SSDI pays money to you and certain family members if you are insured. (In other words, you've worked long enough that you've earned an income and paid Social Security taxes on that income.) SSI pays money to adults and children whose income is limited due to a disability.

You provide the Social Security Administration (SSA) with information on your disability when you apply for either program. According to the SSA, a disability is characterized by the following criteria:

  • You cannot do work that you did before because of your medical condition.
  • You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition.
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

For those with social anxiety disorder who are unable to work due to their condition, the SSA may be able to help financially support you.

Criteria for Social Assistance 

SSA disability programs set forth criteria that must be met to qualify for assistance for an anxiety disorder in Section 12.06 of the "Disability Evaluation Under Social Security" document.

Here is a list adapted from the SSA government website that shows the criteria someone with social anxiety disorder would potentially have to meet to qualify for assistance.

A social anxiety disorder would need to meet the required level of severity for the condition, which typically involves both:

  1. Medical documentation of persistent and irrational fear of social and performance situations that results in a compelling desire to avoid those situations.
  2. Marked restriction in activities of daily living and marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning OR complete inability to function independently outside of the home.

For someone with SAD, examples of activities of daily living that might be impaired include using public transportation, paying bills, making phone calls, and attending appointments. 

People with SAD may fear people, avoid relationships, and experience social isolation.

In addition to the above requirements, a person with SAD's ability to work, as well as whether problems related to the condition have lasted for at least two years, will be considered.

What If You Don't Meet the Criteria?

If you have severe impairment in functioning that does not meet the above criteria, you may still qualify for support.

The SSA recognizes something called residual functional capacity (RFC)—the work-related abilities that you have in spite of your social anxiety disorder.

Evaluation of your RFC demonstrates how your ability to work is compromised by your anxiety even if the impairment is not severe enough to meet the criteria listed above.

For example, if you have severe performance anxiety you might be unable to complete job duties as a teacher, even though daily social activities and daily functioning are manageable.

Sources of Information

Several information sources will be examined to evaluate your case, including:

  • Medical history
  • Mental status examination
  • Psychological testing
  • Hospitalization/treatment history
  • Nurse/social worker statements
  • Personal statement
  • Statements from family
  • Work evaluations
  • Previous work attempts

A description of your anxiety is required, which will include the nature, frequency, and duration of any anxiety attacks, the triggers for those attacks, and how they affect your ability to function.

How to Apply

The claim process typically takes place through a local Social Security field office or State agency (called a disability determination service or DDS).

You can apply in person, by telephone, by mail, or through an online application. You will need to provide a description of your impairment, contact information for your treatment provider, and other information.

Working While Receiving Benefits

If you feel that your situation has changed and you would like to try working again, you will not lose your rights to benefits. In fact, you might have access to additional support.

You may even be able to get help paying for work expenses and vocational training. Given the highly treatable nature of SAD, the offer can be a great incentive to return to the workforce if and when you feel ready.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Social Security Administration. Benefits for people with disabilities.

  2. Social Security Administration. Disability Benefits: How you qualify.

  3. Social Security Administration. Disability evaluation under social security. Section 12.06 Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders (see 12.00B5), satisfied by A and B, or A and C.

  4. Social Security Administration. Code of Federal Regulations. Residual functional capacity.

  5. Social Security Administration. Working while disabled: How we can help.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.