The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers benefits to eligible people with disabilities. The prospective beneficiary is required to submit an application as well as a disability report in order to be considered for benefits. One must fulfil certain criteria according to the SSA, including meeting their disability definition, in order to qualify for benefits. Various medical conditions are considered to be disabilities by the SSA, including mental health conditions such as panic disorder and agoraphobia.
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SSA's Definition of Disability
In order for an individual to receive Social Security disability benefits, Social Security must first determine that one is indeed disabled. Disability is strictly defined by law; one must satisfy both of the following conditions: "You must be unable to do any substantial work because of your medical condition(s), and your medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year, or be expected to result in your death."
Social Security Disability Benefits
SSA offers two disability benefits programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). According to SSA, SSDI is determined based on prior work you have done under Social Security; to be eligible, "the worker must earn sufficient credits based on taxable work." In contrast, based on financial need, SSI benefits are "financed through general revenues" and are available to disabled adults and children who meet the income and living arrangement requirements.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), panic disorder is a form of anxiety disorder where the person repeatedly experiences panic attacks, or "sudden attacks of terror, usually accompanied by a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, faintness or dizziness." The person may experience unpleasant sensations such as feeling flushed or chilled, numbness, chest pain and difficulty breathing as well as a "sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom or a fear of losing control." Panic disorder is treated by using a combination of medication and cognitive psychotherapy, where the panic disorder patient works on "chang[ing] thinking patterns that lead to fear and anxiety."
Agoraphobia, or the "fear of open spaces," and panic disorder are closely linked; if panic disorder is left untreated and progresses, sometimes it can lead to agoraphobia. According to NIMH, patients who have agoraphobia are afraid to venture outside of their homes out of fear that they would experience a panic attack while they're out. They are unable to leave their homes to perform everyday activities such as going to work or driving that non-sufferers could do with ease.
Social Security Disability for Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia Sufferers
If severe enough, mental disorders can be very disabling. Because panic disorder manifests itself in physically disabling ways, coupled with the mental paralysis of constant fear and anxiety, a person who suffers from a severe case of panic disorder can be forced to lead a very limited life. If the panic disorder progresses and develops into agoraphobia, it would be very difficult and, in some cases, impossible for the victim to maintain a job and "do substantial work." A person who has an extreme case of panic disorder and/or agoraphobia may be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits given that she satisfies SSA's definition of disability, as well as successfully completes the application process for benefits. To learn more about the process of applying for Social Security disability benefits, see Resources.
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