Social Phobia in Teenagers

Social Phobia in Teenagers

Alma Ata – Social phobia or social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a debilitating illness characterised by a real and persistent fear of being humiliated or noticed by others (World Health Organization 1992; American Psychiatric Association 2013). Social phobia is a serious and disabling mental health problem, beginning before or during adolescence, with a chronic course, associated with significant impairment in social and occupational functioning and poor quality of life. Social anxiety disorder is associated with major negative consequences and high rates of impairment, even when compared to other mental illness disorders.

A recent study involving a number of adolescents and adults aged 16-29 from different countries with different cultures and economies found that one in three people met the criteria for social anxiety disorder. The disorder impacts several aspects of life for adolescents such as limited academic achievement, putting individuals at risk of leaving school early, and having lower professional qualifications. In the academic environment, social phobia symptoms appear in large numbers of students or existing symptoms increase. At this stage, students strive to be accepted by others as self-regulated and expressive, performing or presenting in front of an audience is the most intimidating situation and has also been shown to be associated with increased disability and reduced quality of life.

Previous research explained that students with social phobia scored lower in all areas of quality of life, including physical and psychological health, social relationships, and environment, compared to students without social phobia. Similarly, in this study, students with SAD were more likely to feel dissatisfied with their health, experience depression and psychological distress, rate their quality of life as poor, and feel dissatisfied with various aspects of life. This results in disrupted health conditions, especially mental health, and exposes students to more complex dysfunctions in various areas of functioning, leading to school dropout and disability or dependency. SAD may be common in adolescents, perhaps due to changes occurring in the brain that make them more socially aware at a time when peer groups are becoming increasingly important. Here are some common factors that can lead to adolescent SAD:

1. Genetic factors

A possible cause of SAD is genetic, as individuals with a family history of anxiety disorders are more likely to develop SAD. Similarly, the genetic closeness of family members with anxiety disorders (e.g. parents or siblings) increases the likelihood of an adolescent developing SAD.

2. Developmental and social change

SAD may be common in adolescents due to the developmental changes and social pressures that occur during adolescence. As adolescents strive for more independence and acceptance from their peers, they may experience anxiety and self-doubt in social situations. In addition, hormonal changes during puberty may exacerbate anxiety symptoms.

3. Personality traits

A child with a natural temperament who is quiet, reserved or unwilling to try new things, may be at a higher risk of developing SAD as they enter adolescence.

4. Parenting style

Overprotective parents may prevent their child from experiencing healthy social interactions or taking new risks. Therefore, the child may lack the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to cope with certain social situations.

5. Bullying

Negative experiences such as bullying, social exclusion or traumatic events may also contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder in some adolescents.

6. Speech problems

If an adolescent has a speech impediment, this can be challenging for many reasons and can negatively impact their confidence in speaking to others.

Here are the symptoms to suspect a teenager is experiencing social phobia:

  1. Difficulty talking to others.
  2. Anxiety about being with other people, especially strangers.
  3. Feeling shy when interacting with others.
  4. Self-criticism after social interactions.
  5. Having few friends and having difficulty making or maintaining friendships.
  6. Reveal little about themselves when talking to others.
  7. Fear of asking others to meet.
  8. Speaking softly, mumbling, or stuttering over his words.
  9. Not wanting to go to social events such as gatherings.
  10. Worry for days or weeks before a public event.

How to overcome SAD

  1. Embrace discomfort
  2. Stop avoiding (dealing with situations that make them anxious)
  3. Reversing the anxiety cycle
  4. Set realistic goals
  5. Relaxation
  6. Therapy


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