Shy teens may suffer from social phobia

November 12, 2012

Shy teens may suffer from social phobia

New research suggests that the previously held belief that social phobia is simply shyness that has been ‘medicalized’ by psychiatrists and drug makers for their own benefit is not true.

A recent study in the United States carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health addressed the condition known as social phobia, sometimes called social anxiety. The study involved 10,000 adolescents aged between 13 and 18 years and the results have been published online before the print edition is published in the journal Pediatrics. Social phobia, it has been suggested by some experts, is just a normal manifestation of shyness, commonly found in teenagers, but ‘medicalized’ by health professionals for their own interests. Pharmaceutical companies and psychiatrists have been said to develop this normal behavior into a medical condition to ensure growing sales of psychiatric drugs. Presently those without an interest accept that more research is required before coming to a decision. Social phobia has been described as a condition in which the individual displays an exceptionally high level of anxiety and self consciousness, far beyond the shyness which is the norm in many teenagers. It is said to disable the worse sufferers from carrying out a normal lifestyle. When asked, approximately half of the teenagers regarded themselves as shy. However, only 12% of these adolescents could be classified as having social phobia by normal standards. It was also identified that of those who did not see themselves as shy, 5% did satisfy the criteria for being diagnosed as having social phobia. This has led the researchers to say that shyness and social phobia need not be directly linked and that social phobia can be unrelated to shyness. The researchers also noted that the likelihood of a teenager with social phobia having another psychiatric disorder, such as drug use or depression increased when compared to those without social phobia. These youngsters were also more likely to have more problems at school and with relationships with peers and family. Yet they had no more likelihood of seeing the relevant health professionals than children and teens classed as shy. Adolescents with social phobia and those who were shy both had low rates of uptake for prescription drugs. Paxil (paroxetine) is a common drug used to treat anxiety and only 2.3% of those with social phobia and 0.9% of those who were only shy took these drugs. Shy teenagers and social phobia sufferers both had similar likelihood of having to use prescription drugs for psychiatric issues.

According to the NIMH researchers, “The results suggest that social phobia is not simply shyness that has been inappropriately medicalized. Rather, social phobia affects a minority of youth and only a fraction of those who consider themselves to be shy. In addition, despite the greater disability that youth with social phobia experience and the greater likelihood that they will have another disorder, they are not more likely to be getting treatment compared to their peers, questioning the notion that these youth are being unnecessarily medicated”.

Dr. Alan Manevitz, is a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and he is an expert that believes that social phobia is real and must be taken seriously. He says, “Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, is a serious disorder that is very different than normal human shyness”. He goes on to describe the different manifestations of the condition and says, “Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation, such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others, or in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people”. Menevitz elaborates that social phobia sufferers live their lives under constant anxiety because they feel that they are being ‘watched and judged by others’.

This leads them to be constantly embarrassed by their own behavior and actions and can be seen as continual blushing and sweating and can cause nausea to occur frequently. All of this has a negative effect on the adolescent causing them, “to have higher levels of impairment in multiple domains, including school/work ability, social life and family relationships”, according to Manevitz.

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