Skip to main content

mental health mondays [rewind] :: problem or no problem?

mental health mondays is on summer vacation, but that doesn't mean that i'm not thinking about these issues. it's practically a full-time job just bookmarking and reading things for its triumphant return in the fall.

in the meantime, i thought i'd share an older post, just to reassure you that, yes, it's always mental health mondays here in more like space land and because the subject of mental health has been on my mind a lot lately.

enjoy!

*

perhaps harold has a problem?
the first time i heard about "social anxiety disorder" was in a discussion with my mother. at the time, i believe that both of us gave a derisive snort and one of us said "great, now shyness is a mental disorder". frankly, i suspect that a lot of people had that reaction, because many of us have some level of social anxiety. what we missed in the initial evaluation is that the important part of the name, however, is that the emphasis should be placed on the third word. disorder means that something is clearly wrong, that the person is suffering and prevented from engaging in certain activities that they would otherwise want or have to do. it doesn't just mean reticence or a tendency to withdraw a little in public situations. a few years ago, i was going out to get some groceries and i became so terrified of going outside, of having to talk to a cashier or even of passing others on the street that i had to sit down on the stairs to get my breathing and heartbeat under control. i sat there for more than half an hour, paralysed between the knowledge that there were things we needed at the grocery store and the overwhelming dread at the thought of venturing beyond the doors. that's when i realised my mother and i had been wrong to snort. it's a real problem. but our reaction did point to a conundrum: how do you distinguish the harmless personality trait from the disorder?

the first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that the two things are not entirely separate. if shyness is severe enough, it can indeed be called social anxiety disorder, so there is space where the two overlap. however, social anxiety is not only a disorder of the shy. many sufferers are quite extroverted, but their internal dialogue prevents them from being able to do so.

shyness generally manifests itself as a discomfort in front of others, especially strangers. shy people are quiet and can be unwilling to talk about themselves or their opinions, but they can be comfortable listening to others and participating more passively in a social situation. for a person with social anxiety, the fear of interacting with people is so strong that they'll try to avoid it whenever possible. avoidance is a key factor in differentiating social anxiety disorder from general shyness. when a person avoids doing things that are perfectly normal or beneficial [like going for groceries] out of fear. shyness, even acute, will not cause this sort of panic and debilitation.

another factor to consider is how the person progresses in social interaction. shy people may lack self-confidence, but they may simply be slow to adjust to unfamiliar situations. this is an understandable evolutionary holdover. unfamiliar often meant threatening to our ancestors and so remaining guarded around strangers or in new surroundings served as protection. people who are shy will tend to relax and open up a little more as they realise that they are safe and accepted. people with social anxiety disorder never reach that point, because their anxiety is not driven by a fear of the unfamiliar. it's driven by an exceptionally low sense of self-esteem.

people with social anxiety disorder don't just feel awkward in front of people- they feel judged. they are usually terrified that others are finding fault in them, because they find great faults in themselves. this is not alleviated with time and sufferers will often recall incidents where they felt they humiliated themselves long after anyone else. social anxiety disorder is characterised by harmful thoughts, self-hating and defeatist ideas that are projected onto others. people with the disorder believe that they are subject to greater focus, with negative consequences.

a final key factor in separating routine shyness from disordered thought is anticipation. shy people might feel uneasy in social situations, but they don't generally think too much about it beforehand. they might have a distaste for public events, but the thought of attending one isn't enough to trigger panic attacks. people with social anxiety disorder become stressed just thinking about social situations. the anticipation in itself is enough to trigger panic and dread [and this in turn leads to avoidance].

one thing that most psychiatrists agree on is that social anxiety disorder is rarely the sole problem for sufferers. most often, it is comorbid with other conditions, such as depression, where low self-esteem triggers a number of other issues. people with social anxiety will often "self-medicate" in order to overcome their fear, which can lead to substance abuse. social anxiety can also be symptomatic of broader anxiety problems, such as generalised anxiety or panic disorder. the presence of other disorders makes treating social anxiety more complicated, as you might imagine.

if you think that you might have social anxiety disorder, the good news is that there is treatment. the first step is to consult a medical professional for their opinion and diagnosis, but since talking to others might seem problematic, you might also want to take a look at the following resources:

the criteria used to diagnose social anxiety disorder
the liebowitz social anxiety scale test [a very helpful quiz that evaluates levels of both fear and avoidance in a number of situations]
a self-help guide to differentiating social anxiety from shyness

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

so hip it hurts

there aren't too many artists who stand out as being iconically canadian. it's too easy to mistake us for some other people, mostly americans, who are, let's be honest, pretty similar in a lot of ways. [this is the bit where i apologise for avril lavigne, justin bieber and drake.] the guess who/ bachman turner overdrive held sway over an earlier generation, and musicians and those who appreciate technical proficiency will speak of rush like they are gods, but last night the country said goodbye to perhaps the most canadian of canadian bands, the tragically hip.

for those of you not familiar with that name, the hip emerged in the mid-to-late eighties, among a slew of canadian bands [54-40, the northern pikes, the pursuit of happiness, the grapes of wrath] that balanced on the line between mainstream and alternative rock. all of them played accessible guitar-based music with none of the bombast of seventies dinosaurs, but equally with no hint of the drug-fueled anger that w…

shut up

general reaction seems to be that last night's vice presidential debate was close to a draw, with a slight edge going to mike pence [other than among cnn's panel of independent voters, who overwhelmingly chose tim kaine as the winner]. i feel that's an accurate assessment, although it's largely a question of personal preference. pence absolutely projected the stoic, unflappable, unwavering image that many americans [not just republicans, either] seem to like and equate with strength. for my part, i prefer someone who's a little more mercurial, someone who's able to gets excited about ideas and who's able to expand on them, not just repeat talking points.

so, from my point of view, both vice presidential candidates were pretty disappointing. i found that kaine had a fantastic command of facts and history- he knew pence's voting record better than pence knew his and possibly better than pence knew his own. his opening answers were so smoothly delivered i…

mental health mondays :: parabnormal?

for north america and parts of europe, halloween marked the apex of spooky events, where the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its most diaphanous. but if you're a very traditional roman catholic, you'll know that the 31 of october is merely the beginning, and that the entire month that follows is dedicated to remembering and praying for the dead, specifically for those whose souls are trapped in purgatory. if you listen to dante, purgatory isn't especially pleasant. sure, there's the possibility that you'll end up working off your debt to celestial society, but until then, you get to endure things like having your goddamned eyes sewn shut with iron wire. [much like condo developments, it gets better the higher the floor you live on.]

however, the more common view of purgatory among catholics is that the souls relegated there can't do anything to help themselves, and are reliant on the prayers of their living relatives and loved ones to …