Individuals who suffer from panic attacks that affect their ability to function normally at work or home are sometimes eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Panic Attack Overview
A panic attack is a sudden intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions despite the lack of any real or perceived danger. Individuals can feel as though they have no control of their body; some panic attacks can mimic heart attacks.
Symptoms of panic attacks include:
- a sense of impending doom or serious danger
- fear of loss of control or death
- racing heart
- shortness of breath or feeling you cannot breath
- stomach cramps
- chest pain
- dizziness, and
- feeling you are going to faint.
While it is not uncommon for individuals to have a panic attack or two in their lifetime, those who have panic attacks repeatedly may have a condition called a panic disorder.
Complications From Panic Attacks
If panic attacks or panic disorders go untreated, they can lead to severe complications. Complications can include:
- development of phobias, including fear of leaving your home (agoraphobia) or performing certain tasks
- avoiding social situations
- problems at work
- increased risk of suicide, and
- substance abuse, including alcohol.
Such complications can usually be avoided through treatment, which can include prescribed medications or therapy.
Qualifying for Disability Benefits
There are three ways in which you can qualify for benefits due to panic disorder.
- Meeting a listing. To meet a listing, you must prove that you have all of the requirements in a listing from the Social Security “Blue Book.”
- Equaling a listing. If you have an impairment that is very similar to a listing, but you do not meet all of the requirements of the listing, you may be able to equal that listing.
- Unable to work any job. Social Security will look at your mental abilities and impairments in a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form to consider whether you have the capacity to do simple, unskilled work.
Meeting a Listing
There is a specific listing in the Blue Book that covers anxiety-based impairments, including panic attacks. Listing 12.06 (Anxiety-related disorders) will be met if:
- You have severe panic attacks that are characterized by a sudden onset of intense nervousness, fear, terror and a sense of impending doom and occur, that occur at least once a week.
- These severe panic attacks have lead to marked difficulties in at least two of the following areas:
- activities of daily living (caring for yourself, maintaining your home)
- social functioning, and
- your ability to complete tasks in a timely manner.
- Alternatively, these severe panic attacks must have left you with an inability to function outside of your home by yourself.
To meet this listing, it is essential that you provide medical evidence from a psychiatrist or psychologist that fully shows the extent of your panic attacks. Specifically, Social Security needs at least one full description of a typical panic attack, including the nature, frequency, and duration of a panic attack, any possible causes for the panic attack (like external stresses or reoccurring panic attacks when at a certain place), and the effects the panic attack has on your ability to function.
Medical care providers who have witnessed one of your panic attacks should include in their records how your description of the panic attack matched what they saw, and all sources from which they got information about your panic attacks (self-reported, from family members, and so on). If your doctor has never seen you experiencing a panic attack, you can have another who has observed it, such as a spouse or family member, provide a description of what they saw.
Equaling a Listing
For those who suffer from panic attacks but do not meet the listing above, you may be able to "equal" the listing by showing your panic attacks are equivalent in severity and duration to that required by the listing. For example, if you do not suffer from panic attacks at least once a week but rather have them in clusters during the month, and you have the required functional limitations, Social Security may find that you equal the listing.
Unable to Work Any Job
When individuals are having panic attacks, they have limited functional abilities in all areas. The ability to function at work during a panic attack would be minimal, if at all. And even when a panic attack is not happening, the challenge with panic attacks is that they leave individuals in constant fear of the occurrence of another attack. This constant fear can affect an individual’s ability to concentrate and complete tasks or to get along with others in the work place. These mental impairments could affect an individual’s ability to work at virtually any job.
For information on how Social Security decides whether the limitations from your panic attacks affect you enough to prevent you from working, see our article on getting disability for mental conditions.