Social anxiety disorder is also known as social phobia. It is defined as the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. It is the fear and anxiety of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule. This leads to feelings of inadequacy, self-consciousness, and depression. The person with social anxiety disorder may believe that all eyes are on him at all times. Social anxiety disorder is the third largest mental health case issue in the world, and it can effect 7% of the population (15 million Americans) at any given time.
There are many different perceptions about people with social anxiety. People who do have it are often seen by others as just being shy, aloof, constrained, unfriendly, uneasy, quiet, indifferent, or diffident. The people who are afflicted with social anxiety may be clouded by these perceptions as well, so they may fail to seek treatment. Because the problem is generally unheard of, they may think that they are the only ones who suffer from it. People who do seek treatment are misdiagnosed 90% of the time, often labeled as “personality disorder”, “manic depressive”, or “schizophrenic”, among other things. This is because social anxiety is not well understood by the general public, or medical or health care professionals. They are not even sure of the real cause of it or what it stems from.
Those with the disorder usually know that their anxiety, thoughts, and fears are irrational and unfounded. They realize that it is angst and terror that they are experiencing. They know that people around them are not really critically judging them or evaluating them constantly. They understand that everyone is not out to degrade or embarrass them. But despite this logical knowledge and sense, they still continue to feel and believe differently, thus, thoughts and symptoms of anxiety usually persist with no indication of going away.
People with social anxiety may usually experience extreme distress in some of these situations: when they are being introduced to other people, being teased or criticized, being the center of attention, meeting important people or authoritative people, being watched while doing something, having to announce something in a public situation, embarrassing easily, or making eye contact. Social anxiety may be selective, though. A person may have an extreme fear of one occasion, such as public speaking, but be perfectly comfortable in any other situation. Others may have several phobias.
There are also emotional and physical symptoms that may follow some of these situations. The emotional feelings may be anxiety, intense fear, nervousness, or automatic negative thinking cycles. The physical symptoms are panic-like attacks, faintness, shortness of breath, heart palpations, profuse sweating, dry throat and mouth, trembling, blushing, racing heart, or muscle twitches. However, the most common feature, is constant, intense anxiety.
Two types of treatment may be used to help patients suffering from social anxiety and social phobia. A certain type of therapy can be used, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and it has proved to be effective in most cases. Medication is also useful in treatment. Antidepressants, such as MAOI’s, in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy, is the most beneficial. But research has shown that if the two treatments are not used together, success is only temporary. Also, treatment must include a therapist and an active behavioral therapy group. The most important steps in defeating social anxiety disorder is understanding and becoming aware of the problem, and committing to go through all treatments, including therapy.
In my opinion, this is probably one of the worst mental disorders that someone can have, because it is so misunderstood and misdiagnosed. What makes the situation even more difficult is the fact that the disorder does not just come and go like other disorders, a person is faced with it everyday of their life, everytime they have to go out anywhere or are put in a situation where people are involved. They have to deal with this all the time, until they are treated. Unfortunately, most people do not know that they are afflicted with it, and, without some kind of formal education, knowledge, or treatment, social anxiety continues to ruin their lives. And if they finally do try to seek help, chances are that they will not find. This is the reality for over 15 million Americans, but yet there is very little being done in the way of trying to help them realize that they are not just shy or introverted, they really have a problem. Hopefully, one day, this disorder will be researched and understood more.