Dreading even ordinary social situations

May 16, 1999|By Joe Capista | Joe Capista,contributing writer

What if the thought of conversation made you sick with fear? Or you lost a job because you were frightened of interacting with others?

According to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association last year, this describes the lives of more than 10 million Americans who suffer from social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a biological brain disorder that causes people to dread and avoid everyday social situations. A study in the Archives of General Psychiatry (1994) reports that social anxiety is the third most common psychiatric disorder, after depression and alcoholism. Symptoms include rapid heartbeat, trembling, sweating, upset stomach and even occasional panic attacks when confronted with a social environment.

The good news is that social anxiety disorder is treatable through psychotherapy and drug therapy. Unfortunately, it is often misdiagnosed by those who suffer these symptoms, as well as by their doctors.

That's why professional and patient-advocacy groups have recently teamed up, forming the Social Anxiety Disorder Coalition. Looking to educate the medical field and public on this psychologically crippling disorder, they've launched an awareness campaign -- titled "Imagine Being Allergic to People" -- to let those with the disorder know they are not alone.

"It is our hope that people with social anxiety disorder will now seek help the same way that people with other mental illnesses, like depression, have done," says Mary Guardino, executive director of of the patient-advocacy group Freedom From Fear. Coalition members include the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, the American Psychiatric Association and Freedom From Fear. Together, they've produced a brochure and a video that has been distributed to thousands of health-care providers and consumers nationwide.

Guardino adds: "I have seen firsthand what appropriate diagnosis and treatment can do for a person, for the first time in years to enjoy spending time with family ... friendships ... and their career."

Sources

For additional information, contact:

* Anxiety Disorders Association of America

1900 Parklawn Drive

Suite 100

Rockville, Md. 20852

301-231-9259

www.adaa.org

* American Psychiatric Association

1400 K St. N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20005

202-682-6000

www.psych.org

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