A Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for Benefits for Anxiety and/or Depression


Anxiety and depression are leading causes of disability among adults in the U.S. Many people suffer from both disorders; nearly half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety.

For those who suffer severe anxiety or major depression, the symptoms can significantly impair the ability to work. But proving a social security disability claim based on mental health can be a challenge. After all, the symptoms are highly subjective; a doctor can’t diagnose anxiety based on an x-ray or a blood test. However, the symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as irritability, lack of motivation, loss of interest, difficulty concentrating or remembering, paranoia, and sleep disturbance, can be just as debilitating as a physical impairment, like a pinched nerve or a disc disease.

If symptoms of anxiety or depression prevent you from working a full-time job, you may be eligible for social security disability benefits.

This article helps those unable to work due to anxiety and/or depression to understand:

• What you need to prove to secure social security disability benefits
• How to file a social security disability application
• What to do if you’re denied social security disability, and
• What to expect at a social security disability hearing



Social security defines a disability as “any medically determinable mental or medical impairment that has prevented an individual from performing substantial work for twelve months, is expected to prevent an individual from working for twelve continuous months, or is expected to end with death.”

It can be difficult to bring a claim for disability benefits on the basis of anxiety or depression because the evidence used to support the diagnosis is based on subjective criteria. Objective measures, like an X-ray or a blood test, cannot tell your doctor what you are thinking or feeling in your day-to-day life.

To successfully claim social security disability for anxiety or depression, be prepared to show a history of medical treatment. If you haven’t treated with medical professionals for your mental health disorder, you can get a referral to a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist from your primary doctor.



If you apply for disability benefits under Anxiety-Related Disorders, you can prove your case through medical records, letters and reports from your doctor, and your own testimony.

Typically, there are two approaches to proving you qualify for disability:
1. Using Social Security’s list of medical conditions and the criteria that prove them (shown below).
2. Showing that you experience a severe impairment or a combination of impairments that prevent you from working a full-time job.

Using Social Security’s Criteria

Social Security has a list of medical conditions that automatically qualify for disability benefits. These are called “listings.” Each “listing” has a set of criteria that must be met to automatically qualify.


To meet this listing, you have to show that you satisfy either A and B, or A and C.

A. You must have medical documentation of one of the following:

• Constant generalized anxiety, with three of the following four symptoms:
o motor tension
o vigilance and scanning
o autonomic hyperactivity, or
o apprehensive expectation

• Constant irrational fear of a situation, object, or activity that results in a significant desire to avoid the situation, object, or activity.
• Recurring severe panic attacks that are characterized by sudden unpredictable episodes of intense fear, apprehension, terror, and a sense of impending doom that happen at least once a week.
• Recurrent compulsions or obsessions that cause of marked distress.
• Recurring intrusive remembrances of a traumatic experience that causes marked distress.

B. The condition under Paragraph A above must result in at least two of the following OR Paragraph C below:

• Marked problems maintaining concentration.
• Marked difficulties with persistence, or pace.
• Repeated periods of decompensation, each of extended duration.
• Marked difficulties maintaining social functioning; or restriction of routine activities of daily life.

C. The conditions described in Paragraph A must result in your total inability to function independently outside your home.


To meet this listing, you have to show that you satisfy either A and B, or A and C.

A. Medical documentation of the requirements of paragraph 1 or 2:

• Depressive disorder, characterized by five or more of the following:
o Depressed mood;
o Diminished interest in almost all activities;
o Appetite disturbance with change in weight;
o Sleep disturbance;
o Observable psychomotor agitation or retardation;
o Decreased energy;
o Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;
o Difficulty concentrating or thinking; or
o Thoughts of death or suicide.


B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning:

• Understand, remember, or apply information.
• Interact with others.
• Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace.
• Adapt or manage oneself.


C. Your mental disorder in this listing category is “serious and persistent;” that is,

• You have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both:

o Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder; and

o Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life.


Showing Severe Impairments or a Combination of Impairments

Most people do not meet the criteria for a “listing,” and so do not automatically qualify for benefits. You can still prove you qualify for benefits by showing your medical condition prevents you from performing a full-time job. You can do this by offering medical records that show your conditions are “severe” or that you have a combination of impairments that prevent you from working.


What is a “Severe” Impairment?

Social security defines a “severe impairment” as one that significantly limits your ability to do any of the following:
• walk, sit, stand, push, pull, lift, and carry
• hear, speak, and see
• understand and follow simple directions, and
• interact with co-workers and supervisors, and adjust to changes in the workplace.

In contrast, a “non-severe” impairment impacts your ability to work only minimally.


What is a Combination of Impairments?

You may suffer from a combination of severe and non-severe impairments – that is, some significantly impact you, while others are less of an obstacle. Social Security can determine whether all of your impairments, when combined, prevent you from working full-time.

If you do not have a treating psychiatric or other mental health provider and your disability claim is based on anxiety or depression, you may want to ask your treating doctor to refer you for a psychological evaluation. These evaluations can be compelling evidence in a disability claim because they use standardized assessment criteria to reach a diagnosis.



The easiest way for most people to file for social security disability benefits is to complete an application online. The second easiest way is to call Social Security and complete an application by telephone.

When you apply, you should be ready to provide with the following information:
• Your basic information (name, address, social security number, etc.)
• Your work and education history
• Your medical diagnoses that prevent you from working
• A list of your doctors and your medications
• The date you believe you could no longer work due to your impairments



The majority of applications are denied, but don’t let a claim denial deter you. If you feel you cannot work because of your medical conditions, appeal the denial within 60 days.

Appealing an initial denial moves your claim to the second stage, which is called Reconsideration. Social Security assigns your claim to another disability examiner to reconsider the evidence. Social security may send you reports to complete, or schedule an evaluation with a doctor. It is important to your case that you comply.

The bad news is that most claims that reach the Reconsideration level are denied.

The good news is that if you appeal within 60 days you move to the third level, the Hearing, which is when the majority of applications are approved.



The third stage of a disability claim is a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. Unlike a typical hearing in court, this is a private and confidential proceeding, there is no “opposing attorney,” no rules of evidence, and (in most cases) no witnesses. Claimants can expect to find a Judge, a court monitor, and likely a Vocational Expert. The Judge will swear you in, ask about your work history, your medical treatment, and your daily life.

After the hearing, most claimants can expect to get a decision in the mail within two weeks to six months.


An Attorney Can Help You Through the Process 

Anxiety and depression can make even the smallest task feel insurmountable. If you or a loved one is suffering from mental health conditions that prevent you from working, contact a social security disability attorney at Hawks Quindel for help completing an application, filing an appeal, or making your best case at a hearing. We work on a contingent basis, meaning you do not pay us unless we help you win financial benefits.

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