A growing number of children and adolescents are experiencing anxiety that has the potential to significantly impact their life and may cause them to seek mental health services. While there are a variety of anxiety disorders, one that is receiving increased attention is social anxiety disorder. Several criteria outlined by the American Psychological Association must be met to be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. The criteria are:
- 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 at a growing rate. When asked what could be triggering their anxiety, some report increased academic expectations, athletic involvement and overwhelming pressure 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 strong that truancy and attendance issues begin to affect the individual and the 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 a 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 a 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 services.
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 installed mental health specialists, social workers or outside clinicians within their schools. Additionally, many school districts offer programs to help identify students who may be struggling with emotional issues and require intervention. Parents often 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, M.Ed.
Program Coordinator, Adolescent PHP – Phoenixville