A recently published on-line survey commissioned by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) provides up-close and personal insight into the severe effects of social anxiety disorder.
The survey conducted by Harris Interactive focuses on romantic and personal relationships, feelings of isolation and shame surrounding this disorder, and the positive benefits of treatment. The survey also draws attention to the delay in obtaining treatment for this disorder and/or not seeking treatment at all: 36% report experiencing symptoms for a decade or more before seeking help; and, another 15% are not currently treating their condition. These findings are troubling for the ADAA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public of all anxiety disorders and supporting treatment effectiveness for disorder management and cure.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million Americans and is the second most widespread of all anxiety disorders (after specific phobias). SAD, also known as social phobia, is characterized by intense and overwhelming anxiety in social or performance situations causing extreme distress resulting in an impaired ability to function. In social situations there is excessive self-consciousness and an intense fear of being scrutinized negatively. Those suffering from SAD dread they will embarrass or humiliate themselves and this often causes avoidances of such situations altogether.
The physical symptoms of SAD include blushing, sweating, trembling, nausea, rapid heart rate, dizziness and/or fainting, stammering, headaches and fear that their throat will close up. The resulting effects of anxiety and physical manifestations of anxiety interfere significantly with daily routine, work and work environments, and social activities. SAD makes it difficult to create and maintain romantic partnerships and friendships.
“Social phobia is a devastating disorder that has a profound effect on social interactions that most people take for granted,” said ADAA President and CEO Jerilyn Ross, MA, LICSW. “In extreme cases, the disorder can disrupt their social lives to the point that people may have no relationships at all, making them feel powerless and alone.”
When left untreated, 77% surveyed said their disorder had a negative impact on romantic relationships with 35% reporting an avoidance of intimacy. Thirty-four percent shared their SAD led to serious fights with their partners and 24% felt the disorder caused their partner to not respect them.
According to experts, these numbers are perhaps reflective of the difficulty in discussing SAD with partners: this then leads to misunderstanding the severity of symptoms which in turn cause a breakdown of trust. Although the social situations wished to be avoided by those suffering from SAD may seem non-threatening to those without this disorder, this can be annoying and irritating to a partner (i.e. increase in arguments).
Close to half of those surveyed (47%) were not in a committed relationship, pointing again to the alienating consequences of the disorder.
The impact on personal relationships mirrored the results found in romantic relationships. Over half of those surveyed (55%) reported having no close friends. An overwhelming majority (78%) said their disorder resulted in missed opportunities with friends and family and 66% reported misunderstandings with friends, family and co-workers. The end result: 65% lose touch and 17% get into arguments with friends; 62% do not return or answer phone calls.
“The results of this survey highlight the need to effectively diagnose and treat people with social anxiety disorder in a timely manner, before their symptoms worsen and dominate their lives,” says Murray B. Stein, M.D., MPH, Director of the Anxiety & Traumatic Stress Disorders Program of California San Diego. “And the fact that 36% have symptoms for a decade or more before getting treatment suggests that millions more are suffering profoundly.”
The emotional toll of SAD was also evaluated. The havoc of this disorder speaks volumes through two aspects of the survey results: 59% often worry about their condition; 56% feel as though they have no control over their lives; 43% feel they could not survive on their own; 69% do not want anyone to think they are crazy; 58% do not want anyone to know they have an illness; and 58% are embarrassed by their disorder. Further, 68% say they feel alone; 66% say no one understands how they feel; 51% say their friends and family think they should be able to overcome the disorder by themselves; and 20% think their doctor dos not take their symptoms seriously.
These numbers are very high, very telling and very powerful. Experts state that many with SAD believe their disorder is actually a character flaw or weakness. This misnomer compounds the belief that SAD is a form of shyness. Not true. SAD is a real and serious illness that requires some form of learned coping skills, therapy or medication (or a combination of the three).
Educating the public and those experiencing the symptoms of the disorder is clearly paramount. Getting out the word that social anxiety disorder is real and serious is equally vital. As the negative beliefs and falsehoods about the disorder begin to change, opportunities for successful support and treatment options will also improve. This ADAA sponsored survey is another important step in achieving the goal of improving the lives of those living with SAD.
Kimberly wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Anxiety Disorders.