Stress is an unavoidable part of our everyday lives. That is particularly true for professionals in skilled occupations that involve fast-paced, high-stakes decisions. The problem has only become worse now that technology enables us to work from anywhere, at any time.

But while some stress can improve work performance, chronic stress can interfere with our productivity and lead to harmful outcomes. If you suffer from excessive worry over everyday work and life stressors, you may be suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder. The most common mental health disorder, affecting nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives, a generalized anxiety disorder, can be disabling. But obtaining short-term or long-term disability benefits due to generalized anxiety disorder is not always easy. This article will offer suggestions for how you can improve your likelihood of receiving short-term or long-term disability benefits due to generalized anxiety disorder.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, generalized anxiety disorder is excessive anxiety and worry that interferes with daily activities. It occurs on more days than not, for at least six months. The anxiety must be accompanied by at least three of the following six symptoms: restlessness, quickly becoming fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance. Often, the worries are related to everyday matters, including job or family responsibilities. Another disorder must not explain the anxiety. It should not be confused with panic disorder, which is characterized by panic attacks (defined as sudden feelings of terror when there is no real danger).

Can You Get Disability Benefits for Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Most people who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder can work despite their symptoms. However, the condition can be disabling if it leads to excessive tardiness or absenteeism at work, difficulty interacting with supervisors and coworkers, difficulty completing work assignments on time, or error-free. If your anxiety disorder meets the forgoing criteria, then you may qualify for short-term or long-term disability benefits from your employer.

Be forewarned that many long-term disability plans limit benefits for mental and nervous disorders to two years, and some exclude coverage altogether. Thus, if you anticipate remaining off work due to anxiety for a prolonged amount of time, it is prudent to also apply for Social Security disability benefits (which your LTD plan administrator will require that you do anyway), since the Social Security Administration imposes no limit on benefits for disabilities caused by mental or nervous conditions.

How Do I Prove That My Anxiety Disorder Is Disabling?

Proving disability due to generalized anxiety disorder is no different from proving disability due to depression or other mental health conditions. Generally, the disability plan administrator will look for evidence that you see a psychologist or psychotherapist on at least a weekly basis. The plan administrator will also look for evidence that you have been prescribed medicine by a psychiatrist or doctor. Medication changes and changes to your dosage can indicate that your condition has not yet stabilized.

If your doctors have recommended that you attend a partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient program, that can be strong evidence of disability. The need to participate in daily treatment would preclude you from working full-time. It also suggests a level of severity of your condition that is not consistent with competitive employment.

In addition to medical records and therapy notes, you should submit letters from your doctors identifying the nature and extent of your anxiety-related restrictions and limitations. You might also consider having them complete a questionnaire (such as this one utilized by the Social Security Administration) regarding your ability to do work-related activities. Finally, you might consider undergoing a psychological evaluation that includes a battery of standardized tests to substantiate your impairment.

Why Are Disability Claims for Generalized Anxiety Disorder Denied?

Often, anxiety disorders are caused or aggravated by workplace stressors, such as a hostile boss or coworker. Removing yourself from a hostile work environment may be necessary for your recovery, but it can invite unwanted scrutiny of your short-term or long-term disability claim. Frequently, disability plan administrators will deny such claims by characterizing them as a “workplace dispute.” However, the cause of your anxiety is mainly irrelevant to whether you are disabled. Far more important are the functional restrictions and limitations documented by your treating providers.

Another favorite tactic of insurers and disability plan administrators is to ignore or minimize the stressfulness of your occupation. Most standard occupational resources do not acknowledge the stressfulness of work unless it involves matters of life and death (e.g., surgeons, first responders). Disability plan administrators exploit that omission by ignoring stress in their vocational analyses. For this reason, it is important that your doctors provide concrete restrictions and limitations (such as limited ability to “interact with the public” or “unable to remember detailed procedures”) that can serve as a proxy for stress, instead of offering only generic statements (e.g., “unable to tolerate stress”).

Another favorite tactic of insurance companies and ERISA plan administrators is to rely on reports by non-examining doctors and nurses to deny disability claims due to anxiety and depression instead of arranging an independent medical examination. Yet courts have harshly criticized the former practice, observing that, “Evaluation of mental health necessarily involves subjective symptoms, which are most accurately ascertained through interviewing the patient and spending time with the patient such that a pure record review will often be inadequate.” Okuno v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 836 F.3d 600, 610 (6th Cir. 2016) (internal quotations omitted). Thus, if you are denied disability benefits for generalized anxiety disorder based on the report of a file-reviewed doctor or nurse, and your treating physicians support your disability claim, you have a solid basis to appeal.

If you have questions about obtaining disability benefits due to generalized anxiety disorder or other conditions, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at DeBofsky Sherman Casciari Reynolds P.C. for a free consultation.

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