Buying groceries, talking on the phone, and going to work are things most of us do on a daily basis and they aren’t extremely arduous tasks to accomplish. However, there are those who believe that scaling a thousand foot rock face would be less of a challenge. For some, he idea of taking part in social situations, no matter how small, creates feelings of depression and nervousness and can induce physical reactions such as dizziness and nausea. These people suffer from what is known as social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder is a fear of being judged in a harsh or negative way by one’s peers. It can induce feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, anger, and severe depression. It is also not uncommon for the disorder to be accompanied by other conditions such as claustrophobia and panic attacks.
Social anxiety disorder should not be confused with agoraphobia. Although there are some similarities, the two are completely different. Agoraphobia is an irrational fear of being caught in a public place with no why to escape without being shamefully humiliated. With social anxiety disorder a person fears more than just going out in public. Most of the time they have very low-self esteem and find it difficult to bond with others, even their own family members. People suffering from agoraphobia may become so crippled by their fear that they have to depend on others to do things for them, such as buying groceries.
In the 1930s, social neurosis was a term psychologists used to describe those who displayed extreme shyness, but it wasn’t until the 1960s when a British psychiatrist by the name of Isaac Marks was the first to recognize social anxiety as being separate from other disorders (Answers.com). Unfortunately, until the 1980s social anxiety disorder was often misdiagnosed or ignored completely. Many of the medical advancements in treatment of it have been made in just the past twenty years. The good news is that there are many treatment options available. Psychiatrists usually employ a form of psychotherapy in combination with medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy along with a prescribed antidepressant seems to be the most effective method. Introduced in the early nineties, paroxetine (more commonly known as Paxil) is still one of the most widely used medications, even though it has been linked to birth defects if taken while pregnant.
There is much debate as to what causes social anxiety disorder, as psychologists have differing perspectives, but it may be a combination of several factors. Environment has been known to play a key part. For example, someone who was overprotected as a child and told of all the bad things that could happen may withdraw from society. It’s just as likely that a horrifically embarrassing event can make a person dread going out in public. A chemical imbalance in the brain can be a biological cause of social anxiety, as well as many other disorders. When serotonin, “a neurotransmitter . . . that is involved in sleep, depression, memory, and other neurological processes” is produced inefficiently it can cause complications in those areas; which is why an anxiety disorder is usually accompanied by conditions like insomnia (Dictionary.com).
According to research, over nineteen million Americans suffer from the disorder making it the third most common mental illness, following depression and alcoholism (Chakraburtty). Despite this fact, social anxiety disorder is one of the hardest mental illnesses to diagnose for a couple of reasons. People who have social anxiety may not exhibit symptoms of the disorder. They will try to hide it, dismiss it, or may not even be aware of the fact that they have it. Also, being that it is an anxiety disorder it has symptoms similar to those of other anxiety disorders such as confusion or losing one’s train of thought, stomach trouble, sleeplessness, and body aches. However, the irrational fear that one has when faced with social situations is a tell-tale sign that he or she may have social anxiety disorder.
It’s also important to note that social anxiety can affect anyone, even someone who is popular and receives lots of attention. Yes, I’m talking about celebrities. An article in Yahoo! Sports recently reported that Kansas City’s star pitcher Zack Greinke was diagnosed as having the disorder. Sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman says that by Zack publicly admitting that he’s not perfect has also helped other players come forward and receive treatment for similar problems (Edes). Upon further research, I found out that there are several other prominent figures in Hollywood who have been diagnosed with the disorder. Celebrities such as Kim Basinger, Barbara Streisand, and Donny Osmond (Cuncic).
Social anxiety disorder is prevalent in the United States. Both its causes and effects are broad, and ongoing research is still seeking answers for how to prevent such illnesses. Unfortunately there is still so much about the brain that we may never know. However, treatment options are available and if patients receive the help they need, social anxiety disorder can be overcome and people can live relatively normal lives.
Anonymous. "Social Anxiety Disorder." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 26 Jun 2010. Web. 20 Jul 2010.
Anonymous. "Serotonin." Dictionary.com. Ask.com, 2010. Web. 20 Jul 2010.
Chakraburtty, Amal . "Social Anxiety Disorder." WebMD. WebMD, LLC, 09 Feb 2009. Web. 21 Jul 2010.
Edes, Gordon. "Acknowledging anxiety made Greinke a torchbearer." Yahoo! Sports. Yahoo!, 03 Jun 2010. Web. 21 Jul 2010.
Cuncic, Arlin. "Celebrities With Social Anxiety." About.com. About.com, 21 Mar 2010. Web. 22 Jul 2010.