Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time – but those who suffer from anxiety disorders know firsthand how paralyzing it can be to function day-to-day. If you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, your symptoms may significantly interfere with your ability to perform your job duties.
You may consider filing a long term disability insurance claim due to your anxiety.
Here’s what you need to know before filing your long term disability claim for an anxiety disorder.
Which Anxiety Disorders Can Be Disabling?
There are many types of anxiety disorders – any of which can cause disability. Knowing which type of anxiety disorder you have will provide a good foundation to help substantiate your disability claim.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is marked by overwhelming and excessive feelings of worry, anxiety, and nervousness. Unlike some other anxiety disorders, these feelings are not rooted in trauma or phobia of a specific trigger.
Those who suffer from Panic Disorder experience regular panic attacks. Panic attacks are an uncontrollable physical and emotional response to fear.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is an anxiety disorder tied directly to a previous traumatic event experienced by the sufferer.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by excessive intrusive thoughts and compulsive actions (referred to as “rituals”).
What Are the Disabling Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders can cause both disabling emotional/cognitive symptoms and physical symptoms. Many people are surprised to hear that although anxiety disorders are considered a mental illness, they have tangible physical symptoms as well. It’s important to report all symptoms you experience to your treating doctors so that he or she gets a full picture of the impact your anxiety has on your daily life and ability to work.
The emotional/cognitive symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:
- Intense episodes of nervousness and worry;
- Excessive anxiety and apprehension;
- Inability to focus due to racing thoughts and anxiety;
- Feelings of imposing doom, dread, and fear.
Any of these emotional/cognitive symptoms, if presenting severely and frequently enough, can be disabling. For example, your anxiety may be so severe that you routinely call in “sick” to avoid meetings with co-workers. You may suffer panic attacks triggered by the stress of your job. Or you may be preoccupied with your debilitating symptoms and unable to focus, concentrate, or pay attention during an important telephone call with your biggest client.
The physical symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:
- Disrupted sleep patterns and insomnia;
- Shortness of breath;
- Increased heart rate;
- Upset stomach, loss of appetite, and gastrointestinal issues;
- Panic attacks.
Any of these physical symptoms, if presenting severely and frequently enough, can contribute to your disability. For example, your anxiety may be so severe that you develop severe insomnia – further contributing to disability with daytime fatigue and inability to concentrate.
How Do I Prove That My Anxiety Disorder Is Disabling?
Your insurance company will not automatically approve your claim just because you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. For your insurer to approve your claim, you must take steps to convince your insurer that your anxiety disorder is disabling.
Get Proof of Your Diagnosis
First and foremost, your insurance company will want to see proof of your diagnosis. A psychiatrist, psychologist, or other appropriately qualified mental health professional will able to give you an anxiety disorder diagnosis. While anxiety disorders often present with some physical symptoms, the basis of the diagnosis will come from a psychological evaluation. By comparing your personal symptoms to the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), your treating medical provider will also be able to narrow down more definitively what type of anxiety disorder you have.
Gather Medical Evidence to Support Your Disability
The most important aspect of your disability claim will be the objective medical evidence from your treating doctors of your anxiety disorder. For this reason, having a supportive doctor is essential.
Examples of objective medical evidence to support your claim include:
- Medical records. Any office visit notes, hospitalization records, lab results, or other records from your doctors that substantiate your condition and symptoms should be included in your disability claim. All of your accompanying symptoms—emotional and physical—should be well-documented.
- A narrative report from your doctor. If your doctor is supportive, consider whether they can write a letter documenting your anxiety disorder and how it prevents you from working. Their report should focus on the frequency and severity of your symptoms, along with the limitations your condition imposes that prevent you from working. Their opinion should be backed up by their examinations and direct observations of you during office visits.
- A list of your medications, dosages, and their side effects. Records of your medications and side effects will help the insurance company understand how they may impact your ability to work (i.e., drowsiness, upset stomach, etc.)
Make Sure You Are Receiving Appropriate Care and Treatment
One requirement in almost every long term disability insurance policy is that you be receiving appropriate treatment for your condition. Even if your claim is approved, the insurance company will still require proof of ongoing treatment. The insurance company can easily use non-compliance and lack of appropriate care as a reason to deny or terminate your anxiety disorder long term disability claim.
To demonstrate appropriate treatment, your treatment team should include specialists such as a psychiatrist and/or psychologist. Treatment options for anxiety disorders may include:
- Medications: Your doctor may prescribe mood stabilizers; antidepressants; and anti-anxiety medications. It may take some time (and trial and error) before you and your doctors find the right medication or medications.
- Psychotherapy: Your doctor may recommend psychotherapy, which may include individual counseling (to help you address specific problem areas, recognize your symptoms and manage your stress); cognitive behavioral therapy (to help identify negative thoughts, change your behaviors and come up with coping strategies); and interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (to help come up with a routine for daily activities such as sleeping, eating, diet and exercise).
- Day Treatment Programs: Your doctor may suggest an outpatient day treatment program designed to help you recognize and control your symptoms.
Again, it is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations. Your insurance company will want to see you are in treatment and doing everything in your power to improve your symptoms.
Write A Personal Narrative
Explaining to your insurance company how your individual symptoms prevent you from performing your job duties can be extremely helpful. You can do this by preparing a detailed, written narrative for the insurance company. In many cases, it is helpful if the narrative addresses all your symptoms by listing them separately first. Because most symptoms of anxiety disorders are subjective in nature, your narrative can also address the severity of your symptoms, as well as factors that trigger or exacerbate your symptoms.
Consider a Neuropsychological Evaluation
In addition to a personal narrative and supportive reports from your treating doctor(s), you may consider undergoing a Neuropsychological Evaluation. A neuropsychological evaluation will measure your cognitive deficits.
Neuropsychological testing objectively and scientifically measures how your disability is impacting your cognitive functioning. This includes memory, learning perception, problem solving, speed processing, verbal functioning, and executive functioning, among other things. The evaluation usually also includes IQ testing and screening for any primary or secondary psychological diagnoses. It also will include validity testing to demonstrate the reliability of the test results.
Many conclusions can be drawn from a valid neuropsychological evaluation, including your primary diagnosis, secondary diagnosis (if applicable), and your deficits in specific areas of cognitive functioning. The results provide the insurance company with strong and objective evidence to demonstrate how and why your anxiety disorder impacts your ability to work.
Your narrative, doctor’s support, and additional neuropsychological testing will all go a long way in helping to prove your anxiety disorder long term disability claim.
WARNING: LTD Policies and Mental Illness Limitations
When filing for long term disability, an important consideration is whether your long term disability insurance policy includes a Mental Illness Limitation.
Policies that contain a Mental Illness Limitation typically limit your benefits to two years if you are disabled due to a psychiatric condition such as depression or anxiety. Of course, each policy is different, so the prescribed maximum period may be shorter or longer depending on the terms of your particular policy.
Some policies with Mental Illness Limitations contain exemptions for certain mental conditions. It is important to review your policy closely.
However, if you are solely disabled due to an anxiety disorder and your policy contains a Mental Illness Limitation that does not exempt it, your benefits will most likely stop when the maximum allowable period expires. Unfortunately, the severity of your mental illness will become irrelevant after the maximum allowable period expires.
However, if you can demonstrate that you are disabled due to objective cognitive problems, your benefits may extend beyond limitation period. A neuropsychological evaluation, as discussed earlier, can provide this evidence.
Anxiety disorders are a serious medical condition that may result in disability. Knowing how to substantiate your claim will significantly increase your chances of approval. To get your anxiety disorder long term disability claim approved, your claim should be supported by sufficient medical evidence and proof of appropriate treatment. It is also important to explain (in detail) how your symptoms prevent you from performing your job duties. Don’t assume the insurance company understands. You have to explain it.
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms above or if you have already been denied disability insurance benefits but have an anxiety disorder, our New York long term disability lawyers can help. Call Riemer Hess LLC at (212) 297-0700 for a consultation on your disability case.