Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is an intense, persistent fear of being scrutinized and negatively evaluated by others in social or performance situations. The 15 million American adults suffering with the disorder try to avoid such situations or other people for fear of humiliating or embarrassing themselves, which has a major effect on personal relationships.
People with the disorder have an excessive, irrational fear of seemingly routine situations and a morbid fear of authority figures, including doctors; and they often suffer from alcoholism and other substance-abuse problems, as well as depression. The disorder is often incorrectly confused with shyness, but it is not uncommon for someone who is not shy at all to have social anxiety disorder.
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America has an interactive website dedicated to social anxiety disorder: www.adaa.org/socialanxietydisorder/. It features five free e-cards that can be sent with a personal message. Each one portrays a symptom of social anxiety disorder, such as the inability to talk to people or make eye contact and the fear of talking on the telephone.
Among its other features, the website includes videos with a medical expert and entertainer Donny Osmond, who suffers from social anxiety disorder; personal stories of triumph over the disorder, including NFL player Ricky Williams; and treatment information such as a downloadable brochure and a link to the Find-a-Therapist search on the ADAA website.
“Social anxiety disorder can have a profound effect on social interactions that most people take for granted,” according to ADAA President & CEO Jerilyn Ross, MA, LICSW. “In extreme cases, the disorder can disrupt social lives to the point that people may have few or no relationships at all, making them feel powerless and alone.” Fortunately, many forms of treatment are available, including talk therapies, medication, and self-help.