Social phobia

Social phobia is a fear of social situations that involve interactions with other people. If you have social phobia you tend to worry about being judged badly by other people - being criticised, "put down" or embarrassed. It is equally common in men and women and is found across different cultures.

Approximately 3 percent of the population suffer from social phobia.
A much larger percentage of the population describe themselves as shy.
Most of these people would not be identified as having social phobia, however, unless the fear and avoidance significantly interfered with their life.

What is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

If you have had generalised social phobia for most of your life you may think that others see you as too quiet or boring. You may avoid meeting other people and not want to risk telling others much about yourself in case they reject you. If you have these sorts of fears, you may have a more severe social phobia, called avoidant personality disorder.

About one-third of people seen at specialist anxiety clinics for treatment of social phobia have avoidant personality disorder. If you have this more severe social phobia, it is very likely that you will have experienced episodes of depression
Coping with severe social anxiety for most of your life may have badly affected your self esteem. You may also have become quite socially isolated. If you have spent many years avoiding social situations or speaking to certain people because of fears about what others think, you need to be aware that it will probably take longer to improve with treatment

What causes social phobia?

Regarding possible causes of social phobia, research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors are relevant. In order to treat your social phobia, rather than focusing on why you have the problem, it is more useful to look at what is maintaining the problem. Some typical social situations feared by people with social phobia include:

These fears tend to be triggered when just anticipating the social situation. You may also have noticed that, after the event, you often feel bad or worse when thinking about how you "performed". How you actually felt in the situation can play a big role in this "post-mortem". As a result of your fears, you may do a number of things to try to prevent something bad from happening. These may include:

A large number of people with social phobia also suffer depression, a disorder characterised by persistent low mood, loss of pleasure, hopelessness about the future, feelings of worthlessness and a number of physical symptoms, including sleep and appetite disturbance. Sometimes people also experience thoughts of suicide. If you have been having suicidal thoughts or if you have been experiencing a number of these other symptoms you may be clinically depressed and you must see a doctor.

Extracted from:  Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety & Depression .. www.crufad.org
* All information is intended as a guide only and should be used in association with your health professional
Anxiety & Depression resources: www.nevdgp.org.au/depression.htm