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April 2017
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Can social phobia be considered as a new disorder? Is it increasing? 
What causes it?
What is the difference between social phobia and depression?

Social phobia is a behavioural disorder which reduces a person’s possibilities to establish social relationships. This disorder can gradually lead to depression and self-isolation. Talking about an increase of this problem would be inappropriate since today we are more aware and more conscious of such disorders, not only because they are talked about in the news and in congresses, but also because ideas which masked diseases in the past are no longer around. Fifty years ago, families protected their members from phobias and depression, however, the shattering of family relationships and the hectic pace of our society today are bringing these problems out into the open.

Is there a connection between psychical problems and social environment?

Leaving aside the fact that some genetic and family predispositions affect psychical and behavioural disorders, we can say that social and cultural contexts have definitely played a role in the explosion of psychical disorders ranging from social phobia to obsessive compulsive disorder and depression in all its various forms. Such problems usually stem from problems concerning the comparison between two behaviour models:

  • the behaviour model which society, in its evolution, imposes with rules, ways to do things and the rhythms of modern life;
  • individual behaviour.

Mankind has always had to adapt to environmental, social and cultural changes imposed by the group or ethnicity one belongs to.
Thanks to mankind’s ability to adapt, we have always been able to mediate environmental changes for our own needs and well-being. However, in the last century, more changes have happened than in mankind’s entire history: we have gone from being farmers to being industrialised and from being part of our hometowns to being part of the entire world, which, almost everyday, imposes new reference models, new behaviour and new life styles on us. 
An individual’s ability to adapt to new situations is truly put to the test and, as a result, the weakest people are not able to keep up with the evolution of society. As a result, problems related to anxiety, social phobia or more obvious forms of depression occur and they often go hand in hand with demoralisation, avoidance rather than fear of confrontation and even isolation and comorbidity in the form of panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder and/or agoraphobia.

What is the link between social phobia and depression?

Social phobia, other forms of anxiety or other minor depressive disorders do not necessarily turn into serious depression, apart from cases in which there is, on a biological level, a neuro-endocrine and biochemical correlation since these individuals are more at risk. In any case, it is extremely important to find out what the problems are that are related to social discomfort, especially with young sufferers because 0.2% of children in primary school and 1% of adolescents show signs of psychical disorders. N.B.: young people often ignore their problems and turn to drugs.

What are the most common mistakes made when treating these disorders?

The most common mistakes are the result of underestimating the problem, which is firstly made by the family and then by many doctors, before the patient gets to a psychiatrist. The most common mistake made by families is interpreting the patient’s behaviour as shyness, introversion and lack of determination and urging him/her to be more active and open and punishing him/her for poor school or work performances. It is like asking an old man to run 100m in 10 seconds.

The mistake made by a patient’s GP is playing down the disorder and considering it as a form of minor anxiety which can be cured with anxiolytics. It is for this reason that, despite there being effective medicine available today, by the time patients reach a psychiatrist, they are already destroyed by their mental disorder, thus treatment takes longer and longer and is ever more complex and costly for society.

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