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May 2017
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Social phobia means having a disproportionate fear of circumstances in which there is no real danger. The individual is usually aware of the irrationality of his/her fears, however, he/she continues to be afraid. According to the classification created by the World Health Organisation (WHO), social phobia is based on the fear of being judged by others (especially in small groups), being the centre of attention or behaving in an embarrassing or humiliating way.

This phobia may only be limited to when the individual has to eat or speak in public, meet people of the opposite sex or attended any social event outside of his/her usual social circle.

A person with social phobia tends to miss social engagements and if this goes on for a long time, the consequence can be complete isolation.

Anticipatory anxiety can occur in people who, in a few minutes, days or months must attend an important event, thus, social phobics are essentially defeatists.

The result of all of this is that social phobics tend to avoid certain situations or, if they are forced to address them, they are affected by symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, tremors, blushing, dry mouth, nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.

Social phobia usually appears in young people: 95% of cases are in people under 20 years old, the average age being 15-16 years old. The phobia then tends to get worse or reappear during adulthood. Social phobia during adulthood can create devastating problems related to personality development, deeply affecting the sufferer’s school, professional and social future.

In the majority of cases (about 80%), symptoms of social phobia precede other types of disorders, suggesting that this phobia leads on to comorbidity conditions. In fact, social phobia was the primary disorder which preceded:

  • alcoholism in 85% of cases;
  • drug abuse in 77% of cases;
  • depression.

Other disorders of comorbidity are:

  • simple phobia (in 59% of cases);
  • agoraphobia (in 45% of cases);
  • serious depression (in 17% of cases);
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (in 11% of cases);
  • panic attacks (in 5% of cases).

There also seems to be a connection between social phobia and food disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. In these cases it is necessary that a diagnosis is made quickly and effective treatment starts immediately.

A TEST, based on the Liebowitx scale, allows us to assess the seriousness of the illness by highlighting what the most frequent difficult situations are and what the characteristics of social phobia are.

In the section Questions and Answers, the problems with this phobia and the things to be avoided when addressing it are discussed in more detail.


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