Your heart is racing, your muscles are tightening, and the room is closing in around you? You back up slowly, and try to make a hasty retreat. This is what it is like for people who are suffering from social anxiety disorder. Anxiety is defined as a state or cause of uneasiness and apprehension; worry, or intense fear resulting from the anticipation of a threatening event. Anxiety often causes a person to feel agitated and anxious. Many people are faced with social phobias such as nervousness during an interview, giving speeches or seeing their highschool sweetheart for the first time in twenty years. These illustrations seem small to the average individual, but to a social phobic person, these events can seem like life or death. Panic attacks are distinct episodes of acute fear. People who experience these attacks describe them as a suddenly overwhelming feeling of doom, as if they are going to die on the spot. They have problems breathing and they may even hyperventilate.
Research by Dr. Zal (2003) reveals that social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental health problem in the United States (Zal, p. 75). According to Dewan (2001), this life long disorder affects more that ten million Americans, men and women equally (Dewan, p. 1795). Dr. Zal also found that this disorder affects children starting between the ages of fourteen and sixteen (Zal, p.75). He also ascertained that only a small proportion (5.4%) of individuals with uncomplicated social anxiety disorder seek psychiatric help (Zal, p. 75). These individuals are two times more likely to have alcohol problems, and if they have an alcohol problem are nine times more likely to exhibit social anxiety disorder symptoms (Zal, p. 76). Dr. Zal’s findings also revealed that suicide attempt rate is 1% for primary social anxiety disorder, with an increase to 16% for comorbid social anxiety disorder (Zal, p.75). Comorbid social anxiety disorder occurs when another disorder worsens or increases the symptoms of the social anxiety disorder. Dr. Zal’s findings suggest that in 70% to 80% of social anxiety disorder cases patients show comorbid conditions, such as 37% have depression, 23.9% have alcohol dependence, 14.8% have drug dependence, 23.3% have agoraphobia, and 15.8% have posttraumatic stress disorder (Zal, p. 76). The statistics clearly show that this disorder opens the doorway for other incapacitating disorders; that destroys a person’s ability to interact with society.
Social anxiety disorder is significant in our sociological world because it has a direct correlation with the way its sufferers feel society views them. We know that social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, results from an acute fear of scrutiny from other people. This relates to the symbolic-interaction paradigm, which sees society as the product of everyday interactions of individuals. Throughout our lives, from childhood to adulthood, we try to live by the norms of our society avoid social marginality, but with the growing cases of social phobia we are seeing more and more people pull away from society. These people may end up depresses, suicidal, or suffer from other disorders such as alcoholism, resulting in their social and economic burden on our society. The added pressures of seeing individuality in social context, along with the expectations to confirm to our “in” groups, succeed in school, and achieve occupational prestige could have a potentially overwhelming effect. As it stands now, we know that social phobia is the third most common psychiatric disorder and it seems to be growing continuously.
Most people in the United States with social anxiety disorder (SAD) do not get mental healthcare for illness. Several studies have examined associations between socio-demographic characteristics and the treatment of health problems (Olfson, Guardino, Struening, & Schneier, 2000). People that did not get treatment were younger, less eduacated, and less likely to be white. A problem in living is a person-environment transaction that blocks an individual experience of satisfactory social functioning. Social anxiety is usually thought to have genetic and biological causes adolescents and young adult consumer of medication may not develop motivation to make behavioral changes for combating their anxiety. Adolescents usually turn to drugs to help their problems. People with social phobia usually have a low self-esteem and depression. Some people have other anxiety disorders such as panic disorder. Almost one in four people with social anxiety have had thoughts of committing suicide. SAD is more common in females, people with low educational attainment, people with a lack of social supports, and people with a lack of social supports, and people who use psychiatric medications.
One of the most common differences of opinion experienced concerning social anxiety is that people often discount the mental illness social anxiety disorder simply as extreme shyness. In fact, social anxiety disorder has been called “the neglected anxiety disorder.”(www.social-anxiety.org) for this reason. Social anxiety is a genuine mental disorder categorized in the DSM-IV, being one of five anxiety disorders listed. (www.socialphobia.org) Seeing that social phobia wasn’t categorized as an illness in itself until the 1990’s, it’s not surprising that many people have misconceptions about the illness. Whereas shyness is a simple personality trait that isn’t necessarily problematic, social anxiety disorder can have severe consequences for the sufferer, including suicide attempts or prevalent suicidal thoughts, nervous breakdowns, or panic attacks. Shy people experience a far lower level of anxiety than those with social anxiety. Sufferers of social anxiety feel anxious due to certain triggers and as a result, completely withdraw from that social situation. According to the book Anxiety and Depression: A Natural Approach, mental health institutions often treat “mild to moderate states of [social] anxiety”(p. 3) less seriously compared to mental disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression. Sufferers of social anxiety are often treated like hypochondriacs and not taken seriously. Anxiety is very complicated in that physical ailments can cause it, while similarly anxiety can cause physical ailments. Thus it can be very difficult to tell whether someone suffers as the root of his or her problems from anxiety, or a physical condition. Chronic pain can result from nervous exhaustion for example. Thus often the chronic pain is treated but the anxiety, the root of the problem, is not. Often the sufferer isn’t taken seriously until they’ve had a complete mental breakdown or have attempted suicide, and as a result need to be hospitalized (p. 57). Like most mental disorders, social anxiety is often coupled with depression as people lose hope in their ability to function in the social world. Therefore it isn’t totally surprising that 90% of the time, someone who suffers from social anxiety is misdiagnosed as being “schizophrenic, manic-depressive, clinically depressed, manic disordered, or personality disordered”(www.socialphobia.com). Despite the downplay received within the mental health community, social anxiety is a mental disorder as real and as dangerous as any other.
As we can see from all of the information listed above General Anxiety Disorder is not to be taken lightly. Since General Anxiety Disorder was not categorized as an illness until approximately ten years ago, there are many misunderstandings about this disorder.
People who do not have it and cannot relate to it simply think the subject is extremely shy or withdrawn. “r. Richard G. Heimberg of Temple University notes that people with social phobia experience many negative life experiences as a result of their social anxiety:
1. They are less likely to marry than others
2. They have additional occupational difficulties” (www.angelfire.com/biz/socialphobia.)
Despite all of these negative effects of social phobia, there are ways to combat it and since it is such a newly diagnosed disorder, that in the near future there should be more ways to treat it. There are ways to treat it now. Some of these ways include the most common way, medication and psychological therapy.
Most people see medication as black and white, either you are for it or against it, there is not really an in-between. The most effective way to treat social phobia is a type of psychological therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy. In this group therapy, “participants work on their anxieties in a hierarchical, step-by-step fashion, working toward a goal they can reach in the future.” (www.angelfire.com/biz/socialphobia/) The cognitive (thinking and belief) changes must accompany the behavioral therapy to be effective.
In summation, SAD or GAD as it is commonly called is a growing disorder that affects people around the world. It is extremely evident in those people who have other psychological disorders, as mentioned above. With a little bit of time, and some more good old-fashioned research, SAD should become a tolerable disorder in no time.
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