One out of every four people in the U.S. are suffering from some sort of mental illness at any given moment. The odds that a person will experience mental illness at some point in their life are even higher, at about 50 percent.
While depressive illnesses are the largest contributors to mental illness, social phobia comes in at a surprising third most common in the U.S. Some might dismiss the symptoms as mere shyness, but it goes beyond just being timid.
Also known as social anxiety, this disorder overwhelms its victims with an irrational fear of situations in which there is a potential to be judged or scrutinized by others. People affected by social phobia often have trouble doing everyday things, like going to the grocery store or going to work on the day of a meeting, because they feel overly self conscious and find it impossible to focus. Bad cases incite nausea, profuse sweating, trembling and trouble speaking, causing avoidance of all social situations at high costs.
It can certainly be argued that social phobia symptoms are universal. Everyone, at one point or another, has likely felt intimidated in a social situation, worried about what others were thinking. Those who have not personally experienced the disease might quickly dismiss evidence of a real problem as just being nervous. They might suggest things like ‘getting over it,’ ‘facing the fear,’ or they might point out the irrationality of the situation. Critics point to the almost complete lack of biological evidence as proof that mental diseases don’t exist.
But therein lies the problem – victims of social phobia realize their fears are irrational. They know they shouldn’t feel the way they do, but they can’t help it. If they could think their way out of the problem, they most likely would. That’s why it’s called a disease, not an inadequacy.
Quantifying feelings is not really possible, so proving a mental illness exists is not exactly easy. Victims overwhelmed by the idea that they are responsible for the way they feel can be, in a sense, bullied out of seeking help, diagnosis or treatment. The lack of significant biological evidence and the weight of social norms are stacked against the mentally ill. Some viable treatments are not even covered by mainstream health coverage.
What it comes down to is that the idea of mental health is subjective. Since there is no universal norm for cognitive behavior, any definition of deviation from this non-existent norm will inevitably lead to controversy.
Social phobia doesn’t get as much attention as other mental illnesses because with the others, there is often semblance physical evidence that something is wrong. With social anxiety, evidence is either smaller or nonexistent, and symptoms can easily be mistaken for other, benign issues.
Approximately 15 million American adults have social phobia, worrying weeks or even months about situations that most people encounter on a daily basis without a second thought. Psychotherapy and medication can be used to treat the disease, but someone who didn’t think the disease was real would never seek the necessary treatment. Just like depression and other mental illnesses, social phobia needs to be recognized and treated appropriately.
Jeff Jacobsen – Online Content Manager