As an SSDI lawyer, I am often asked if a person can get social security disability because of an anxiety disorder.

The short answer is – yes, but it depends.

Is Anxiety a Disability?

To determine whether you are disabled by your anxiety disorder, Social Security will first consider whether your condition meets or equals a listing.  

If so, you are considered disabled and entitled to benefits.

If your anxiety disorder, such as phobias, panic attacks, OCD or PTSD, is not severe enough to equal or meet a listing, Social Security will assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) and determine whether you can perform your past relevant work or any other work.

This is known as Step 4 and Step 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process.


The listing for anxiety disorders is 12.06.

The anxiety disorder must be either your predominant disturbance or experienced if you attempt to master your symptoms – for example, confronting the dreaded object or situation in a phobic disorder or resisting the obsessions or compulsions in obsessive-compulsive disorders.

The required level of severity for anxiety disorder is met when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied, or when the requirements in both A and C are satisfied. You must satisfy the requirements of A.

A. Medically documented findings of at least one of the following:

  1. Generalized persistent anxiety accompanied by three out of four of the following signs or symptoms:
    1. Motor tension; or
    2. Autonomic hyperactivity; or
    3. Apprehensive expectation; or
    4. Vigilance and scanning; or
  2. A persistent irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation which results in a compelling desire to avoid the dreaded object, activity, or situation; or
  3. Recurrent severe panic attacks manifested by a sudden unpredictable onset of intense apprehension, fear, terror, and sense of impending doom occurring on the average of at least once a week; or
  4. Recurrent obsessions or compulsions which are a source of marked distress; or
  5. Recurrent and intrusive recollections of a traumatic experience, which are a source of marked distress;


B. Resulting in at least two of the following:

  1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or
  2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or
  3. Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or
  4. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.


C. Resulting in the complete inability to function independently outside the area of one’s home.

Part A requirements are associated with a specific anxiety disorder. A(1) is for a generalized anxiety disorder. A(2) is for phobias. A(3) is for panic disorders. A(4) is for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). A(5) relates to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You need to have a medically documented finding of one of these disorders to meet the listing.

Additionally, treatment by a licensed psychologist is preferred over treatment by only a family practitioner.  However, treatment by any medical doctor is better than no treatment at all.


While there is a Listing for Anxiety Disorders that can qualify you for Social Security Disability, most people with anxiety issues do not meet the listing.

In these cases, the disability claim is evaluated by determining whether your residual functional capacity allows you to perform your past work and any other work.


With an anxiety disorder, your residual functional capacity (RFC) will likely be a Mental RFC.

An RFC for mental impairments is expressed in terms of whether you can do skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled work in spite of impairments, or whether you cannot even do unskilled work.

If you have a mental RFC saying you have the ability to perform unskilled work and have no additional physical impairments, you will face an uphill fight to have your claim approved. Some factors can weigh into making your case better. These include no more than a limited education; are close to retirement age; or a lifelong history of unskilled work that you can no longer perform.

The reason for the denial is that the Social Security Administration will cite and identify many jobs that require only unskilled work that you can still perform.


If you can show that you have a “marked” impairment in any of the abilities required for unskilled work, your SSDI claim has a much greater chance of being approved – even in the absence of any physical impairment.

How do you show impairment of ability to perform unskilled work?

You need to show some limitations associated with:

  • Memory;
  • Following directions;
  • Maintaining focus;
  • Reliability;
  • Need for supervision;
  • Ability to work with others;
  • Decision making;
  • Ability to work at a consistent pace;
  • Handle changes;
  • Awareness.

Development of evidence of the above and the associated limitations can be complicated and time-consuming.

For example, how do you show memory deficit or your lack of decision-making skills?

Information from family members about how you behave at home and in social situations can help. Specific work-setting information may be obtained from former supervisors or co-workers if available.

Treating physicians may have made observations or have opinions regarding your ability to perform these basic capacities.

What should you do next?

A disability lawyer can help you develop a sufficient record and evidence to help show that your anxiety disorder limits your functional capacity to such an extent that you are not able to compete in jobs that may be available.

If you have specific questions about your claim, contact Metairie disability attorney Loyd Bourgeois for a free consultation at 985-240-9773

Loyd J. Bourgeois
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Accident, injury, and disability lawyer serving Luling, Metairie, New Orleans, and South Louisiana