Accurate Diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder/Social Phobia

Social Phobia typically starts during youth, and untreated, Social Anxiety Disorder can last for many years. Social anxiety can be limited to one situation, for instance, eating, etc. In other instances it may be so generalized (such as in generalized social phobia) that the individual feels intense anxiety around almost anyone other than very close relations. If you believe you may have social phobia, it is important to see a specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Only a specialist can provide an accurate diagnosis of social anxiety disorder.

The following symptoms are required for a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder:

Significant fear in response to one or more social situations, and that the fear involves scrutiny or judgment by others. This can include meeting new people, extended conversations, dating, eating in front of others, etc. There is a great deal of variability in the fears people report. Sometimes social anxiety is limited to only one situation, such as public speaking, whereas others with the disorder report almost all social situations trigger significant distress.

The individual fears he/she will do something that will result in negative judgment, or that the symptoms of the anxiety will result in negative judgment from others. Commonly, people with social phobia fear they will say the “wrong thing” or will not “know what to say,” which they predict will result in significant embarrassment and negative evaluation. Sometimes people are concerned about blushing or stuttering in front of others, thinking these indications of anxiety will be looked upon poorly by other people.

The social situation(s) in question provokes this response more times than not. Everyone experiences social anxiety from time to time. It is only when the occurrence of social anxiety begins to become more regular that a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder is considered.

The social situation(s) are either endured with intense anxiety, or avoided altogether. People who avoid dating, parties, or public speaking due to the aforementioned fears meet this criterion. Avoidance can also be more subtle, for instance, avoiding meeting new people at the party, not looking up from the podium when giving a speech, or engaging only in brief encounters with others. These are also examples of avoidance. 

The fear is out of proportion to the actual threat. Some social situations would be expected to elicit some anxiety, for instance making a speech to a room of several hundred people, being interviewed on TV for the first time, or talking to someone who is aggressive or dangerous. Having the same intense reaction in other, less threatening social situations however, is considered disproportionate.

The anxiety is persistent for at least 6 months. Individuals who experience these symptoms for a few weeks or months cannot be diagnosed with the disorder. However, these individuals are more likely to go on to develop the disorder if they do not seek treatment.