If you’re living with anxiety, panic disorder, depression or another mood disorder, you understand how difficult it is just to maintain a “normal” existence. Even with the help of trained medical professionals, medication and all of the self-help books and relaxation techniques in the world, you face struggles that others may never understand — especially when it comes to work.
For people living with psychological issues, work is often a challenging subject. Even people with jobs they love, who work in supportive environments that understand and accept their issues, may feel overstressed and overwhelmed by work. Their illness may prevent them from performing at their optimal level — or even working at all.
For some, the problem might be so bad that they are actually disabled by their mental issues. Someone suffering from agoraphobia or a panic disorder, for example, may be physically unable to work. Someone who lives with a severe anxiety disorder may be unable to handle the normal stresses of an office. If this sounds familiar, you may in fact have a disability claim and be able to collect at least a portion of your income from disability insurance.
Never an Easy Case
Experts note that disability claims related to mental health are among the most challenging to file, and are often denied at least once (often more) before being approved. The reason? Unlike a physical ailment that can be proven through observable measures — X-rays, medical tests, MRIs, etc. —psychological disorders are diagnosed based on behaviors or self-reporting.
Unfortunately, there are those who have tried to cheat the system by claiming psychological issues that prevent them from working, meaning that without the observable signs of a real illness or injury, people claiming psychological reasons for disability have a greater burden of proof. Not to mention, given the expectations of our society, many people assume that problems like stress and anxiety are just a part of modern life. Some believe that others need to just “chill out,” or take medication so they can cope with the same issues that everyone else does.
Except as anyone with a real psychological disorder can tell you, it’s never a matter of just “chilling out.” It’s far more complex, and does have the very real potential of disrupting your life and ability to work.
Making a Claim
Making a successful disability claim based on a mental or emotional disorder is challenging, and usually requires professional help, as state laws and insurance policies vary widely.
California disability law does allow claims based on stress or anxiety, but claimants must meet specific criteria. A licensed attorney will provide more information about the law and your specific claim, but in general, you need to prove that your mental anguish has kept you out of work for at least eight consecutive working days, that the issues are exacerbated by work and that you meet other criteria, including salary and length of time on the job.
Of course, that assumes that you are covered under a state-issued disability insurance policy in California. In other states, or if you have private or individual coverage, you may have additional or different restrictions. Some policies do not even cover claims based on psychological disorders. If your policy does cover such claims, though, you can expect that your case will be thoroughly reviewed, including:
Reviewing your records from both medical and mental health professionals. In most cases, you must be receiving treatment for your condition, either medication or therapy or both. It’s best to have at least a 12-month history of seeking treatment for this issue.
Your family, friends and co-workers may be interviewed about you and your condition.
You may have to see an additional, insurance-carrier selected doctor for evaluation.
Your doctors will have to agree that your condition prevents you from working.
In short, making a disability claim based on an emotional issue involves relinquishing a great deal of your personal privacy, and may involve months of doctor’s visits, interviews and document requests. That’s why it’s so important to have a good attorney on your case before you file a claim, as these types of claims do have a higher likelihood of being denied.
That said, there are many stress and anxiety-related claims that are approved, and plenty of people who are able to collect at least a portion of their income while they learn to more successfully manage their condition. So while occasionally hating your boss or dreading a Monday morning isn’t going to get you approved for disability, if you have a severe, documented emotional or mood disorder that’s impeding your ability to work, it may be worth exploring your options.