“Who’s that quiet, creepy looking guy?”
“I don’t know, just ignore him.”
And, that’s how most conversations go when talking about shy people. But do these conversers know shyness isn’t a choice? Ultimately, it’s similar to being gay, in which the decision is not in the hands of the person. However, when it comes to shyness, people view it as unprofessional.
While shyness isn’t directly linked to mental illness, a more serious form of shyness, dubbed ‘Social anxiety disorder’, is. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 Million adults.
According to the book “Social Anxiety Disorder: The NICE Guideline on Recognition, Assessment and Treatment by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health”, Social anxiety disorder is characterized by a significant fear in one or more social situations causing considerable distress and impaired ability to function in at least some parts of daily life. Additionally, as stated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in every 25 adults experience serious mental illness in a year that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Ultimately, this disorder is nothing to laugh about.
So, how does social anxiety manifest?
Well, the fears, people with social anxiety have, originate from perceived scrutiny, or actual scrutiny. Essentially, all it takes is one life-altering incident of public humiliation to trigger the disorder.
According to NAMI, approximately one in five youth (ages 13-18) experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. Additionally, social anxiety disorder is the most likely disorder to experience because all children start off shy. However, eventually kids grow out of it, but there are quite a few people who suffer into their adulthood.
On the other side of the coin, it is plausible to perceive, but not experience public humiliation that will trigger the disorder as well. For example, you enter a room with a former significant other and his or her friends and are certain that they’re having a conversation about you. Honestly, it is more than likely they are, but there is no proof, so anxiety kicks in.
According to NAMI, of the 20 million US adults who experience a substance use disorder, about ten million had a mental illness as well. While it is not reported how many of the mental illnesses are social anxiety, it still shines a light on a topic ignored by many. Social anxiety is not something people choose to have, and those said people go to great extremes to cope with their problem. Some use alcohol or other drugs to feel comfortable in social situations. Murray B. Stein and Jack M. Gorman, MD, authors of Unmasking Social Anxiety Disorder, say the disorder the illness of lost opportunities, citing individuals decisions to make major life choices to accommodate their illness.
So, whether it’s the everyday person or entertainers, social anxiety disorder affects in people in our daily lives. The stigma detached to shy people as unprofessional has to stop. This is a not a choice.
I, myself, struggle with social anxiety. As a transfer junior at Slippery Rock last semester, it was rough. I’ve made few friends outside of my roommates, living off campus. Furthermore, I imagine I’ve rubbed classmates the wrong way with my quietness. At age 20, I struggle with engaging in simple conversation. But I found an outlet in writing. Hopefully, in due time, I can put the pen down and converse.