Can I Qualify for Disability with Agoraphobia?

Published on: November 7, 2019

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If you suffer from agoraphobia, you know the challenges it can impose upon your daily life. Even stepping outside your home for a few moments can cause panic and severe anxiety. To make matters worse, people who don’t have experience with this disorder often have a difficult time understanding just how debilitating it can be and how it can impact your ability to maintain personal and professional relationships.

While developments in technology have made it easier than ever to work from home, not everyone possesses the education or experience necessary for such jobs. Given this situation, you may have often wondered if suffering from agoraphobia makes you eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (known as SSDI benefits).

The short answer is that, yes, you can qualify for disability due to agoraphobia. Unfortunately, meeting the standards necessary to obtain these benefits can be quite difficult.

What is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes people to fear or avoid public places and situations that might make them feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. Some of these situations include things like using public transportation, being in large open spaces (such as parks or shopping malls), standing in line at a store, leaving home alone, or attending a concert. Agoraphobia usually develops after experiencing a panic attack and worrying about having another attack under similar circumstances.

Roughly 1.8 million Americans over 18 suffer from agoraphobia, often without any previous history of panic disorders. Usually manifesting around the age of 20, Agoraphobia can make it hard for a person to leave their house. Left untreated, the condition can become more severe over time.

The term itself comes from the ancient Greek word “agora,” which is a public meeting or market place. Unlike the formulation suggests, however, people don’t actually fear the public places themselves, but rather the panic attacks they can cause, which often manifest in physical symptoms like chest pains, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a terrifying feeling. People experiencing one for the first time often call 911 because they think that they’re having a heart attack; most frantically attempt to leave the area they're in, while others may lash out and fight with anyone in reach. Doctors have found that panic attacks are caused by the sympathetic nervous system, making it a physical disorder rather than a purely mental one.

When someone suffers a panic attack, their body reacts to minor or moderate threats as if they were extreme dangers. The body’s physical “fight-or-flight” response kicks in with a surge of adrenaline, even though the source of danger may not even be apparent to another observer. A simple way to think about it is to imagine responding to the sight of an ordinary house cat as if it were a wild jaguar ready to run down its prey.

Qualifying for SSDI Benefits With Agoraphobia

Now comes the important part: both panic attacks and agoraphobia are classified in the SSA Blue Book under anxiety disorders. That means there is a certain set of criteria you need to meet to qualify. To meet the SSA’s guidelines regarding agoraphobia (listed under section 12.06), you must have medically documented findings of at least one of the symptoms of section A, and fulfill the requirements of either section B or C. All three are included below, straight from the SSA's Blue Book.

A. Medically Documented Findings

A licensed physician or psychiatrist must determine that you have one or both of the following panic disorder or agoraphobia symptoms.

  • Panic attacks followed by a persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences.
  • Disproportionate fear or anxiety about at least two different situations (for example, using public transportation, being in a crowd, being in a line, being outside of your home, being in open spaces).

B. Limitations

An applicant must have an extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning:

  • Understanding, remembering, or applying information.
  • Interacting with others.
  • Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace.
  • Adapting or managing oneself.

C. History

Applicants must have a medically documented history of a "serious and persistent" disorder occurring over a period of at least two years, and there must be evidence of each of the following:

  • Medical treatments, mental health therapy, psychosocial supports, or highly structured settings that are ongoing and diminish the symptoms and signs of mental disorder.
  • Marginal adjustment or minimal capacity to adapt to changes in the environment or to demands that are not already part of daily life.

These requirements may be extensive, but they do not have to stand in the way of you obtaining the SSDI benefits you are entitled to under the law. With an experienced disability advocate to help guide you through the application process and provide the support you need to meet the necessary requirements, you take the first steps toward managing your condition. Contact the SSDI advocates at Disability Experts of Florida today for a fast and easy consultation to explore what options are available to you.

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