Key Facts About a Diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder

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Obtaining a diagnosis of SAD is the first step toward treatment. Pixabay / geralt / 9610 beelden

Obtaining a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder (SAD) is the first step toward receiving treatment. Below are various parts of the diagnostic process.

Obtaining a Diagnosis

One of the hardest parts about having SAD is getting help. It is no wonder that social anxiety is under-diagnosed. From calling to make an appointment, describing symptoms to a stranger, and even simply acknowledging your anxiety to another person, the process of getting help for SAD can be fraught with obstacles to overcome.

One approach to getting help involves:

1) finding a competent mental health practitioner who understands the unique difficulties of someone with SAD;

2) providing a detailed written description of the problems that you are having; and

3) bringing along a family member or friend to talk on your behalf if needed. If a doctor or therapist makes you feel uncomfortable or belittles your symptoms, it is time to move on and find someone who is patient and understanding.

Screening for SAD

As part of the diagnostic process, your doctor or mental health professional may have you fill out one or more screening questionnaires to assess for SAD symptoms. Although screening questionnaires cannot on their own be used to diagnose, the results of these questionnaires will indicate if further assessment is needed.

If the results of a screening questionnaire indicate the presence of SAD symptoms, your doctor or mental health professional should do a follow-up assessment.

A full diagnosis will usually involve a clinical interview to get a full picture of your particular situation.

The following articles provide information about specific screening tests.

Diagnostic Criteria

On May 18, 2013, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) was published.

In this edition, social anxiety disorder (SAD) continued to be recognized as a diagnosable mental illness.

The disorder is defined as:

"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 (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating."

The other criteria include that the feared situations invariably provoke anxiety or panic attacks, that you recognize that the fear is unreasonable or excessive, that feared situations are avoided or endured with intense anxiety and distress, that the symptoms interfere with functioning and cause marked distress and have lasted 6 months or more, and finally, that the symptoms are not due to another cause.

As part of a diagnosis, your doctor or mental health professional will conduct a clinical interview to assess your physical, behavioral and cognitive symptoms. He will assess how much these interfere with your functioning, and will rule out other possible causes. He will also determine whether you suffer with generalized or specific SAD.

The following articles discuss aspects related to the diagnosis of SAD.

Related Disorders

If you suffer with SAD, you are at increased risk of being diagnosed with a second disorder.

The most common overlapping disorders are avoidant personality disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, alcoholism, and eating disorders.

If you are diagnosed with one of these secondary disorders, your treatment plan should reflect the unique interaction of symptoms that you experience.

The following articles discuss the overlap between social anxiety disorder and each of these related disorders.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Rosenthal J, Jacobs L, Marcus M, Katzman M. Beyond shy: When to suspect social anxiety disorder. The Journal of Family Practice. 2007; 56: 369-374.

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