Social Anxiety Disorder, according to the DSM-5, can be defined by the following criteria:
“A. A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way that will be embarrassing and humiliating.
B. Exposure to the feared situation almost invariably provokes anxiety, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally pre-disposed Panic Attack.
C. The person recognizes that this fear is unreasonable or excessive.
D. The feared situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety and distress.
E. The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance situation(s) interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.
F. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting 6 or more months.
G. The fear or avoidance is not due to direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., drugs, medications) or a general medical condition not better accounted for by another mental disorder.”
Personally, I feel conflicted about diagnostic labels. Since childhood I have had several terms attached to my identity: ‘weird’, ‘quiet’, ‘learning disabled’, ‘uncooperative student and classmate’, ‘cold’, ‘shy’, ‘uptight’, ‘unapproachable’, and so on. All of these labels place the onus on the individual with the mental illness for having a difference in behavior compared to the supposedly average person. Secondly, once a person has a label attached to them, they can be more easily identified and discriminated against as a response by others as a result. Labels carry a heavy weight behind them – people have preconceived ideas and beliefs about what different labels mean.
A diagnostic label can, however, allow people easier access for needed services and resources. A diagnostic label also empowers the individual to attribute their behavior and actions to a word or phrase.
As research continues and understanding of mental illnesses increases, labels can change. For example, Social Anxiety Disorder used to be categorized as Social Phobia in the DSM-IV. That being said, diagnostic labels, while under constant revision, are still fairly general terms that are subjective and fluid, especially with mental illnesses. Two people may have the same diagnosis but still have very different experiences, and very few people fit each and every criterion for any particular disorder. I personally do not believe any term can ever fully describe or define a person, nor should they.
I am living with Social Anxiety Disorder, though I have never been formally diagnosed. By personally identifying myself in this way, I hope not to offend anyone who has been formally diagnosed. Although I don’t have a diagnosis, I can relate to most of the criteria detailed above as defined by the DSM-5. Identifying as a person with Social Anxiety allows me to express in words my difficulties in connecting with others and better understand myself in the process.
About Hilary M
Hilary M is a twenty-something Toronto student who is living with social anxiety. She considers herself an ally with people living with disabilities and enjoys working and volunteering at organizations that secure human rights and accessibility for all individuals.