Magazine article The Futurist

Cures for Social Phobia

Magazine article The Futurist

Cures for Social Phobia

Article excerpt

Severe shyness in youth may become debilitating in adulthood.

Social phobia is increasingly viewed as a mental disability that is both treatable and preventable.

Social phobia goes beyond shyness: It is the extreme fear and avoidance of social situations. It is common in adults and children and is extremely debilitating, according to psychiatrists Deborah C. Beidel and Samuel M. Turner, authors of Shy Children, Phobic Adults.

Social phobia is more prevalent than once thought: Some 8% of adults and 5% of children suffer from social phobias at some time in their lives, and social phobia is the third most common mental disorder in the United States, after depression and substance abuse, according to the authors.

"Children and adults suffer significant difficulties as a result of social phobia," write Beidel and Turner. "Those with social phobia are plagued by the persistent fear that they will do something to embarrass themselves, say something stupid, or otherwise appear inept or inferior to others that will result in others developing negative impressions of them."

This extreme shyness in children can lead to developmental problems, such as not forming normal friendships and not engaging in organized group activities; as a result, they fail to develop skills essential to normal social discourse. In later life, phobic adults may avoid the experiences that cause them extreme discomfort, such as going on job interviews. If they are unable to adjust to their discomfort, their nervousness actually increases, according to Beidel and Turner.

Recent research suggests that one root of social phobia may be genetic; it is also possible that people develop social phobias by observing nervousness in others, such as a parent.

The good news is that, at least for adults, social phobia "is a highly treatable condition," and though less research has been done for treating childhood and adolescent social phobia, similar strategies may prove effective.

Treatments include both pharmacological and psychological strategies. Drugs such as antidepressants and beta-blockers have been used to treat anxiety. A relatively new class of antidepressants called SSRIs block the re-uptake of serotonin at the neural synapse. …

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