Can I Qualify for Disability with Agoraphobia?

Posted by Scott Flexer on Mar 10 2017

Stress and anxiety from agoraphobia

If you suffer from agoraphobia, you know the challenges it poses. Being unable to step outside your home because your mind assails you with panic when you do makes it difficult to live life. Worse yet, those who don't suffer from it often have a hard time understanding how debilitating agoraphobia is, and the many ways it impacts your life.

You may be able to handle working from home, but those jobs are few and far between. You might have asked at some point, can I qualify for disability because of my agoraphobia? In short, the answer is yes—you can get disability for agoraphobia. However, qualifying for disability with agoraphobia can be difficult.

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What is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is known as the “fear of public places.” How'd it get its name? It comes from classical Greek terms, which describe it as “fear of the marketplace."

However, current research shows that agoraphobia is directly related to panic attacks and anxiety disorders; that means that the fear is not so much about public places themselves, but rather the fear of the panic attacks those places can cause.

That’s a big difference, as far as the Social Security Administration (SSA) is concerned. A fear can be overcome with classical conditioning and exposure—and that’s great. However, when the fear is about a disabling condition—which is, itself, a perfectly natural response—then it becomes something far different. The fear of suffering a panic attack in a public place combines two problems: the inability to go where other people are because of the condition, and the actual fear of suffering from the condition.

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.

Qualifying for Disability

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, 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 extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F):

  • Understanding, remembering, or applying information (see 12.00E1)

  • Interacting with others (see 12.00E2)

  • Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace (see 12.00E3)

  • Adapting or managing oneself (see 12.00E4)

C. History

Applicants must have a medically documented history of a "serious and persistent" disorder occurring over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of each of the following:

  • 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 mental disorder (see 12.00G2b)

  • Marginal adjustment, that is, there is minimal capacity to adapt to changes in the environment or to demands that are not already part of daily life (see 12.00G2c).

These conditions may seem extensive—and they are. However, if you do meet these requirements, you should give us a call. We can help you through the application process and assist you in securing your disability income. 

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Topics: SSI, SSA Eligibility, Qualify for Disability with Agoraphobia

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