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Can I get Disability Benefits for Panic Attacks?

Panic Attack Symptoms

Panic attacks are characterized by a sudden sense or feeling of terror. These attacks can make an individual feel like they are going to have a heart attack or die. These periods of terror often occur without warning and are disproportionate to the situations or circumstances in which the individual is participating.

How do you know if you are having a panic attack? You may experience any of the following symptoms:

• Increased heart rate
• Feeling faint or weak
• Dizziness
• Feeling of terror or doom
• Chest pains
• Difficulty breathing

Panic attacks usually lasts for 10 minutes or less and individuals who have had one panic attack are likely to experience more. If an individual has multiple panic attack “episodes” they may be diagnosed with Panic Disorder.

Panic attacks generally affect women more than men and generally develop in early adulthood. Although the medical community is not clear what triggers panic attacks, it is not unusual for them to develop after major life changes or stressors.

Individuals who suffer from panic disorder are also more likely to develop depression and attempt suicide, and it is not unusual for individuals to be overly fearful or anxious anticipating their next “panic attack.”

Treating Panic Disorder

Several treatments have been shown to reduce or alleviate panic attacks including therapy or medication. Many individuals use a combination of treatments to reduce their incidences of attacks. Untreated severe panic disorder may eventually lead to nervous exhaustion or agoraphobia (the fear of leaving one’s home).

Social Security Disability and Panic Disorder

To win disability benefits for any condition the claimant must prove that the condition is so severe they are unable to work for at least 12 continuous months.

How do you win disability benefits for panic disorder? You will need good medical documentation which clearly defines your diagnosed condition and supporting medical documentation which clearly states the number of panic attacks you experience in a week and the limitations you have to work.

It is also important that you get consistent medical care from a mental health professional (psychologist or psychiatrist) and follow their treatment advice. Failure to take prescribed medication or see a medical professional could jeopardize your chances to win disability benefits, especially if the Social Security Administration believes that with proper treatment you would be able to work.

Getting Disability Benefits for Panic Attacks by Meeting a Listing or through a Medical Vocational Allowance

The Social Security Administration maintains a list of conditions that they find automatically disabling, and this list is called the SSA Listing of Impairments (informally the “Blue Book”).

Panic attacks are a “listed condition” and are evaluated under Section 12.00 Mental Disorders in the SSA Listing of Impairments, but for you to “meet a listing” your panic disorder symptoms must be as severe as those on the list. If your symptoms are not as severe as the listed conditions you will have to prove you are disabled through what the SSA calls a medical vocational allowance.

The Social Security Administration will use the medical vocational allowance to determine if your functional limitations have deteriorated to such a degree (due to panic attacks) that you will not be able to work your current job, a past job or retrain for new work based on your age, education or job skills.