Social Anxiety Or Shyness
November 19, 2012

Paper Defines Difference Between Social Anxiety Disorder And Shyness

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

A paper published in the Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics looks into where to draw the line between social anxiety and just being shy.

Many experts have separate opinions over whether someone suffers from shyness and social anxiety disorder (SAD). The team decided to explore the mental disorder, as well as treatment options and its impact on daily life.

"There are many differing opinions about social anxiety disorder and the best treatment," Kristy L. Dalrymple, of the department of psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital, said in a statement. "Should it be treated with medication, behavioral therapy, or both? The significant increase in the prescription of antidepressant medications (which often are used to treat SAD) over the past several years — an increase of 400 percent — should be considered when determining the best approach. Are we simply medicating, or are we helping patients to truly improve their quality of life?"

Having social anxiety is defined as a fear of embarrassment or humiliation in social situations to the point where these situations are avoided or endured with a significant amount of distress.

Past studies showed that SAD is the fourth most common mental disorder in the U.S., with prevalence as high as 13 percent in the general population of Western countries. The rate can reach as high as 30 percent within those who are seeking mental health treatment.

SAD has been documented in previous studies, which have shown those who suffer from the disorder often suffer from other psychiatric disorders as well, like mood, anxiety and substance abuse disorders.

The mental disorder can have a significant impact on someone's personal and professional life as well. SAD is associated with lower levels of educational attainment, single marital status and unemployment. It is also associated with fewer days worked and reduced work productivity.

Treating the disorder has its own set of problems due to proper diagnosis. Those who suffer from the disorder may be reluctant to admit it due to fear of humiliation or embarrassment. No definitive cause of SAD has ever been identified.

"Despite its prevalence, social anxiety disorder has not received the same attention from the public or mainstream media as other disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder," Dalrymple said in the statement. "Due to its social and economic impact, it merits further study in order to help researchers and clinicians determine possible causes, and the best treatment.

She said it is not about overcoming shyness, but rather about helping patients who suffer from a disorder that is preventing them from living a happy and healthy life.