If you struggle to work because of a panic disorder or frequent panic attacks, you may qualify for monthly disability benefits and healthcare through the Social Security Administration (SSA). In 2021, 1.1 million workers received disability benefits through the SSA because of mental health conditions such as panic disorders.
To help you qualify, we’ll break down how the SSA defines panic disorders, how your panic disorder could qualify for disability, and what next steps should take.
Is panic disorder a disability?
The SSA does consider panic disorder as a disability when your symptoms leave you unable to work. However, the SSA has strict criteria for all mental health conditions. It can be challenging to prove that your condition is severe enough to qualify.
How the SSA defines panic disorder
According to the SSA, people with panic disorder often experience periods of intense fear that trigger anxiety or physical reactions, like panic attacks. They often report an impending sense of doom accompanied by symptoms like sweating, shortness of breath, shaking, nausea, abdominal cramping, and chest pain.
Types of panic disorders the SSA considers
The SSA considers panic disorders alongside other common mental health disorders, all of which can qualify for Social Security disability. Similar conditions you may experience include:
Yes, it is possible to get disability benefits for a panic disorder, but only if it makes it impossible to work. The SSA has very strict criteria for all mental health conditions, so you will likely have a hard time proving you meet the medical requirements. You will have an easier time qualifying if you experience panic attacks in addition to another kind of condition that qualifies for disability benefits. It’s also easier to qualify if you're 50 or older.
Your odds of approval are also higher if you have another qualifying condition or if you work with an experienced disability lawyer.
Criteria for getting disability with panic disorder
When evaluating a panic disorder, the SSA will look for documented medical evidence that your condition limits your ability to work and has persisted despite treatment. Having a doctor or psychologist diagnose you with panic disorder isn’t enough to qualify on its own.
There are three main criteria you will need to prove that you if you want to qualify for disability with panic disorder:
You experience regular, persistent symptoms.
Your panic attacks limit your ability to work.
Your panic disorder is serious and long-term.
1. Prove you experience regular, persistent symptoms
You must meet one or both of these criteria:
You experience regular panic attacks and you’re persistently worried about either having additional panic attacks or the negative consequences of an attack.
You experience significant fear or anxiety about at least two different situations. Examples include being in a crowd, waiting in a line, using public transportation, being outside of your home, and being in open spaces.
2. Prove panic attacks limit your ability to work
The SSA will evaluate your mental function in four key areas:
Your ability to understand, remember, and apply information
Your ability to interact with others
Your ability to concentrate and stay on a single task
Your ability to adapt to changes and otherwise manage behavior
The SSA requires medical proof that your panic disorder is extremely limiting in at least one area listed above, or markedly limiting in multiple. An extreme limitation means you’re unable to function independently in that area. A marked limitation seriously limits your abilities but you can manage it on your own.
3. Prove your panic disorder is serious and long-term
You need to show the SSA that your panic disorder is serious and has continued despite treatment. If you haven’t received medical treatment, you’ll have a harder time qualifying. If you have received treatment plans but haven’t always followed them, the SSA may also deny your application.
You’ll need evidence of the following three items:
You’ve had panic disorder for at least two years.
You receive ongoing medical treatment, like therapy, to help manage your symptoms. This can also include any support you already receive to accomplish daily activities.
You’ve been unable to adapt to changes even with ongoing care and support.
Questions to ask yourself before applying
If you answer yes to all or most of the following questions, it may be easier to get approved for benefits.
Do I have a hard time ignoring and avoiding distractions while working?
Is it hard for me to consistently meet deadlines?
How often do I struggle to understand and follow instructions?
Do I have a hard time doing daily activities, like cooking or getting dressed?
Is it hard for me to handle changes in my life?
My panic disorder meets the criteria. Now what?
If your panic disorder meets the above criteria and you have thorough documentation, the next step is to apply for disability benefits. The process is long, so it’s best to apply as soon as possible. You can also apply if you’re unsure whether or not you’ll qualify, but applying is time-consuming and may not be worth it if you’re unlikely to get approved. Here’s our advice:
You’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder but the symptoms are manageable OR
You still work, even if you’re worried your panic disorder will make it difficult to keep working in the future
Probably don’t apply if:
Your panic disorder symptoms are difficult to live with, but they don’t stop you from working
You don’t plan to stop working and you’re earning more than about $1,400 per month
You can also save some time by taking our free 2-minute disability quiz, which will help determine whether or not you qualify for benefits. If you do, we can also connect you with an experienced lawyer who will help you navigate the challenges of applying with a mental health condition. (You only have to pay your lawyer if you win benefits.)
How much is a disability check for panic disorder?
The average disability check for panic disorder and other similar mental disorders is $1,232.97 per month.
Your actual monthly payment will depend on which type of benefits you receive, in addition to your work and income history. If you receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) — usually an option if you’ve worked for at least five of the past 10 years — the maximum possible payment is about $3,600 per month in 2023. If you get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) — available to low-income individuals who may not have much work history — the maximum benefit is $914 per month in 2023.
What if my panic disorder doesn’t meet the criteria?
Getting disability for a mental health condition is challenging. If you don’t think you’ll qualify for benefits, it is still possible to apply. But your best bet is to speak with a disability lawyer about your chances.
Keep in mind that qualifying for disability is also difficult even for people with severe conditions. Only 20% of applicants win their benefits claim on their first application. But after an appeals process, about half of applicants win benefits. To learn more about increasing your odds of approval, read our step-by-step guide to applying for disability.
At the bottom of many websites, you'll find a small disclaimer: "We are not a law firm and are not qualified to give legal advice." If you see this, run the other way. These people can't help you: they're prohibited by law from giving meaningful advice, recommending specific lawyers, or even telling you whether you need a lawyer at all.
There’s no disclaimer here: Atticus is a law firm, and we are qualified to give legal advice. We can answer your most pressing questions, make clear recommendations, and search far and wide to find the right lawyer for you.
Two important things to note: If we give you legal advice, it will be through a lawyer on our staff communicating with you directly. (Don't make important decisions about your case based solely on this or any other website.) And if we take you on as a client, it will be through a document you sign. (No attorney-client relationship arises from using this site or calling us.)