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Can panic attacks qualify me for Social Security Disability?

Understanding of mental health and related disorders has improved over recent years, but there is still a great deal of confusion surrounding mental health conditions and the effects these conditions have on a New Jersey resident's ability to function on a day-to-day basis. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are just one example of a type of mental disorder that many people do not fully understand. Although people often mention suffering from panic attacks, many people do not realize that panic attacks can constitute a disability that could qualify a person for Social Security disability.

In terms of qualifying for Social Security disability for mental conditions, the relevant information is contained in Section 12.00 of the Social Security Blue Book. There are many different factors that are considered when Social Security evaluates a claim for disability benefits based on mental disorders. First and foremost, the applicant must provide documentation that shows the existence of the mental disorder according to medical criteria. The evaluation of a claim also analyzes to what extent the mental disorder affects or limits an individual's ability to work.

Although there are nine different categories of mental disorders described in the Blue Book, the listings clearly cover panic attacks under the category 12.06, "anxiety-related disorders." Providing the correct documentation of the condition, however, is critical to success on the application for benefits. For panic and anxiety-related disorders, there must be clear documentation of the anxiety reaction. This means that a typical anxiety reaction or panic attack must be described in detail, including how often such attacks occur, how long they last, what the attacks are like, any factors that worsen or cause the attacks and how the attacks functionally affect the sufferer.

The description of the anxiety can come from many different sources. It can come for a medical source, such as a doctor, physician or psychologist, or it can come from the person's own experience or the experience of others who have observed the reaction. In terms of weight of evidence, descriptions from medical sources generally carry more weight, but descriptions from others who have witnessed the reactions may suffice if there is no medical source available.

Source: SSA.gov, "Disability Evaluation Under Social Security: 12.00 Mental Disorders-Adult," accessed on Feb. 24, 2015

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