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).
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:
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.
If panic attacks or panic disorders go untreated, they can lead to severe complications. Complications can include:
Such complications can usually be avoided through treatment, which can include prescribed medications or therapy.
There are three ways in which you can qualify for benefits due to panic disorder.
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:
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.
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.
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.