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Overcoming social anxiety

September 3, 2014 General Wellness By Regan Sarmento, MEd

A growing number of children and adolescents are experiencing anxiety that has the potential to significantly impact their life. While there are a variety of anxiety disorders, one that is raising attention is Social Anxiety Disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, several criteria must be met to be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, including:

  • Persistent and significant fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment, rejection or scrutiny are possible
  • Experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety when placed in the feared social situation
  • Recognition that the fear is irrational or unreasonable yet unable to manage it
  • Avoidance of the feared situation or enduring the situation with intense distress or anxiety

The fear and avoidance of the situation must be so severe that there is a significant interference in daily functioning in school, work or relationships. In order to make a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, a qualified mental health professional should be consulted.

Children and teenagers are being diagnosed with social anxiety disorder at a growing rate. When asked what could be triggering their anxiety, some report increased academic expectations, athletic involvement and overwhelming pressures to succeed. This anxiety may appear in an adolescent’s resistance or refusal to attend school or engage in social situations in which they previously were comfortable. The refusal may be so great that truancy and attendance issues begin to affect the individual, their family and their interpersonal relationships. At this point, many families and caregivers are struggling to support the teenager while pushing them to return to the activities they were previously engaged in—and enjoying.

The first step is to seek out a mental health professional to determine if there is indeed social anxiety disorder or perhaps an underlying reason that is triggering the lack of involvement in school and social situations.  A family can contact their family doctor or pediatrician to locate therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist who can aid in the correct diagnosis. Additionally, contacting a member services representative of the insurance company can be helpful in identifying area practitioners skilled in mental health treatment.

Some families don’t realize that help can be closer at hand. Many school districts have responded to the growing needs of students and have engaged mental health specialists, social workers or outside clinicians to provide services within their schools. Additionally, many school districts offer programs to help identify students who may be struggling with emotional issues and require intervention. Often times, parents feel they are alone; however, assistance can generally be found by contacting their child’s guidance counselor who can offer resources to address the issues at hand.

The best way to overcome social anxiety is to recognize it and then treat it!

Regan Sarmento, MEd is an education coordinator at the American Day Treatment Center.