Social anxiety disorder is the third largest phobia, but it is often not identified in teens.: image via dontpaniconline.com A study published online October 17, 2011 in the journal Pediatrics indicates that teens with social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, tend not to receive treatment for this psychiatric disorder because parents and teachers may assume the teens are just very shy. But shyness is not even a prerequisite for the determination of social anxiety disorder.
The U.S. National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) conducted a national survey of more than 10,000 teens aged 13 to 18, which was aimed at determining the numbers of teens who were shy and those who met the criteria for socially phobic. Though about half of the respondents reported being shy, but only 12 percent of this group were socially phobic. Five percent of the students who did not report shyness as an attribute of their personalities met the criteria for social phobia.
Social phobia is characterized by extreme fear of scrutiny or judgment by others and social phobics go to all extremes to avoid situations where they are in public, in any group situation. The fear of being watched, doing things in front of others, is so great that it takes hold of the teen emotionally weeks before an event that might embarrass them. The phobia interferes with learning and with making and keeping friends; for adults, it can severely hamper one's ability to work.
One of the dangers in overlooking this disorder is that social phobics are at high risk for drug and alcohol abuse. Additionally, these teens are likely to suffer secondary psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and depression, simultaneously or later in life. Shy people are able to attend social functions; those with social phobias are rendered dysfunctional in social situations and will do anything in their power to avoid such situations.
Cognitive and behavioral therapy are used to treat social phobia as with other panic disorders. Prognosis is good with therapy, perhaps with short term use of anti-anxiety medications.
sources: Pediatrics via USA Today, PubMed Health