Is Social Anxiety A Disability?

Millions of individuals all over the world struggle with social anxiety, also referred to as social phobia.

It is characterized by a strong desire to avoid social situations and an extreme fear of being judged by others.

The subject of whether social anxiety should be considered a disability has received attention as society becomes more aware of mental health problems.

Understanding Social Anxiety

Before we dive into the debate, it’s important to define what social anxiety entails.

Social anxiety is a persistent fear of social situations where individuals fear judgment, humiliation, or embarrassment.

This fear can manifest in various physical and psychological symptoms, including sweating, trembling, a racing heart, and a strong urge to escape the situation.

The spectrum of social anxiety varies from mild to severe. Some individuals experience it only in specific circumstances (like public speaking), while others find it challenging to participate in almost any social situation.

It is important for us to acknowledge that social anxiety is a legitimate mental health condition, causing genuine distress and impairment in people’s daily lives.

is social anxiety a disability Social Anxiety as an Impairment

Social Anxiety as an Impairment

Social anxiety can undeniably be considered an impairment.

It significantly restricts an individual’s ability to engage in social situations and can lead to negative consequences.

Here are several ways social anxiety can impair a person:

Occupational Impairment:

Severe social anxiety can hinder workplace performance, especially in tasks that involve public speaking, presentations, or networking.

This can affect career advancement and job prospects.

Educational Impairment:

Students with social anxiety may find attending classes, participating in group projects, or even asking questions overwhelming.

This can adversely affect academic performance and the overall educational experience.

Having worked on a college campus, I have seen this a lot.

Interpersonal Impairment:

Social anxiety can strain personal relationships, making it challenging to make friends, maintain romantic relationships, or connect with family members.

Emotional Impairment:

The constant fear of judgment or embarrassment often leads to emotional distress. People with social anxiety experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

While social anxiety can be classified as an impairment, the question of whether it qualifies as a disability depends on the extent to which it substantially limits a person’s major life activities.

Defining Disability Under the Law

In the legal context, disability is defined and protected under various acts, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States and similar legislation in other countries.

These laws aim to provide equal opportunities and protection against discrimination for individuals with disabilities.

According to the ADA, a disability is a condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities, which encompass activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, and working, among others.

Whether social anxiety qualifies as a disability under the ADA depends on the degree to which it substantially limits these major life activities.

Is Social Anxiety A Disability?

The ADA recognizes that mental health conditions, including social anxiety, can be disabilities if they significantly limit major life activities.

For some individuals, social anxiety does meet this criterion. Let’s look at how social anxiety can be considered a disability.

In the following section, I will reference the Social Security Administration’s Disability Evaluation section for Anxiety Disorders.

Social Security Disability Criteria for Anxiety Disorders (Including Social Anxiety): Is social anxiety a disorder

Social Security Disability Criteria for Anxiety Disorders (Including Social Anxiety):

Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders satisfied by A and B, or A and C:

Medical documentation of the requirements of paragraph 1, 2, or 3:

Anxiety disorder, characterized by three or more of the following;

  1. Restlessness
  2. Easily fatigued
  3. Difficulty concentrating
  4. Irritability
  5. Muscle tension
  6. Sleep disturbance

Panic disorder or agoraphobia, characterized by one or both:

  1. Panic attacks followed by a persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences; or
  2. Disproportionate fear or anxiety about at least two different situations (for example, using public transportation, being in a crowd, being in a line, being outside of your home, being in open spaces).

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, characterized by one or both:

  • Involuntary, time-consuming preoccupation with intrusive, unwanted thoughts; or
  • Repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety.


Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning:

  1. Understand, remember, or apply information.
  2. Interact with others.
  3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace.
  4. Adapt or manage oneself.


Your mental disorder in this listing category is “serious and persistent;” that is, you have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both:

  1. Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder; and
  2. Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life.

Documents You Will Need To File With The Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration (SSA) may ask for the following information to substantiate your social anxiety as an official disability:

  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States;
  • U.S. military discharge paper(s) if you had military service before 1968;
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year;
  • Medical evidence already in your possession. This includes medical records, doctors’ reports, and recent test results; and
  • Award letters, pay stubs, settlement agreements or other proof of any temporary or permanent workers’ compensation-type benefits you received.

The Filing Process For Social Security Disability

If a person thinks they meet criteria for a full disability, they may apply online at the SSA website.

Here they will:

  1. Print and review the Adult Disability Checklist. This one page document will assist you in gathering the information you need to complete the application.
  2. Complete the Disability Benefit Application.
  3. Complete the Medical Release Form

Once an application is submitted, SSA will confirm via email that they received it. Once they process the information, the applicant will be advised of either an acceptance or a denial.

Note that it usually takes 3-5 months for a decision – and this can be longer if the SSA requests more information to make that decision.

It is important to know that not everyone with social anxiety will meet the criteria for disability.

Disability determination is often a case-by-case process, and it takes into account factors such as the severity of social anxiety and its impact on major life activities.

Many people get denied for social security benefits.

If your Social Security Disability application gets denied, you can file an appeal. Many people decide to hire an attorney to help them navigate this complex process.

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