Social phobia in teens goes beyond shyness

November 12, 2012

Social phobia in teens goes beyond shyness

A new study examining shyness and social phobia was published online in advance of the print version in the medical journal Pediatrics. Researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health investigated in excess of 10,000 teenagers throughout the U.S. in the national survey. All participants were aged between 13 and 18 years.

Social phobia, also known as social anxiety is a debilitating condition with symptoms such as exceptional levels of self consciousness, anxiety and stress.

The condition generates different views from many so called experts. Some say that it is normal in teenagers but has been exaggerated by medical professionals and drug companies. Others accept that the condition is real but the medical profession has taken it aboard as a medical condition. Again the thinking is to enhance drug companies’ profits with extra sales of psychiatric drugs to youngsters.

The survey found that about 50% of the young people thought that they were shy. However, only 12% satisfied the researchers’ measure of social phobia. Another finding showed that approximately 5% of the participants who did not believe that they were shy did meet the researchers’ criteria for social phobia.

The researchers took this to indicate that the occurrence of social phobia may be not be related to shyness in some cases. They speculate that there may not be a direct link between shyness and social phobia.

Other findings coming from the study included depression and drug use was more likely in young people who had social phobia, as was the probability of having another psychiatric disorder. Social phobia sufferers were also more likely to have more problems with social interaction at school or work but were no more likely to have professional help than shy youngsters.

They also found that teens with social phobia were consistently more likely than other teens to also have another psychiatric disorder in their lifetime, such as depression or drug use disorder. But youngsters with social phobia did not have a higher incidence of taking prescription psychiatric drugs than shy teenagers.

Teens with social phobia also had higher levels of impairment at school or work and among family and peers, but were no more likely than shy teens to be receiving professional treatment.

Prescribed drug usage by respondents in the study was low. Paxil (paroxetine), a common antidepressant was only being taken by 2.3% of youngsters with social phobia and only 0.9% of shy teenagers were on prescribed medication.

A National Institute of Mental Health news release states, “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 one expert that agrees that the condition should be taken seriously. He says, “Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, is a serious disorder that is very different than normal human shyness”.

He explains that in different people the condition manifests itself in different ways. Some people may have a fear of formal speaking, others may have a problem even if the speaking is informal. Eating or drinking in the company of others may be a problem and at its worst it can block someone’s normal life. Manevitz goes on to elaborate, “People with social phobia have a persistent, intense and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions.”

The physical symptoms seen in a person with social phobia includes blushing, sweating and nausea.

Manevitz explains that because those with social phobia have higher levels of impairment at school or work, and in their family relationships and social life then it is crucial that they are identified quickly and receive suitable treatment.

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