Social Anxiety Disorder
How Common Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is the second most common type of anxiety disorder (after specific phobias) and the third most common mental disorder in the U.S., after depression and alcohol dependence. An estimated 19.2 million Americans have social anxiety disorder. The disorder most often surfaces in adolescence or early adulthood, but can occur at any time, including early childhood. It is more common in women than in men.
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
There is no single known cause of social anxiety disorder, but research suggests that biological, psychological, and environmental factors may play a role in its development.
- Biological: Social anxiety disorder is currently thought to be related to abnormal functioning of brain circuits that regulate emotion and the "fight or flight" response center in the brain. Genetic factors may also contribute, because social anxiety may be somewhat more likely to occur when it is also present in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child).
- Psychological: The development of social anxiety disorder may stem from embarrassing or humiliating social experiences in the past, such as being bullied or neglected by peers.
- Environmental: People with social anxiety disorder may develop their fear from observing the behavior of others or seeing what happened to someone else as the result of their behavior (such as being laughed at or made fun of). Further, children who are sheltered or overprotected by their parents may not learn good social skills as part of their normal development.
How Is Social Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?
If symptoms of social anxiety disorder are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by asking questions about your medical history and performing a physical exam. Although there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose social anxiety disorder, the doctor may use various tests to make sure that a physical illness isn't the cause of the symptoms.
If no physical illness is found, you may be referred to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional who is specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for an anxiety disorder. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis of social anxiety disorder on reports of the intensity and duration of symptoms, including any problems with functioning caused by the symptoms. The doctor then determines if the symptoms and degree of dysfunction indicate social anxiety disorder.