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Powered by, one of the most popular daily English language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates.

Shying away from social encounters

07/16/2009 11:34 PM | By Biju Mathew, Web Coordinator

Dubai: It's a sad tale, told by many, far too often, but seldom heard. And when it is heard, generally it is far too late. For social phobia, like any other mental disorder or physical ailment, is best tackled during the initial stages.

But what is social phobia? Imagine standing in the middle of a gathering, palpitating, numb and scared of being watched. Imagine being unable to do anything when watched by acquaintances or strangers. Something that is normal for a social being is beyond the realm of imagination for a social phobic.

People with social phobia have a negative image of themselves - what others will think about them would be their constant worry, said Dr Sreekumar V. Nair, psychiatrist, NMC Specialty Hospital, Dubai.

Social phobia, unlike many other mental disorders, is poorly understood and often ignored. The reasons vary from culture to culture due to the level of stigma attached. Performance anxiety or fear of public speaking could make many jittery, but when that persists, leading to avoidance of such situations, then it is time to seek professional help.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), social phobia is the third most common mental illness in the world (after depression and alcoholism), said Dr Sreekumar.

If detected at an early age, especially during adolescence when the fangs start to protrude, it is much easier to tackle social phobia.

Unfortunately, most of the time the disorder is diagnosed and treated when it is chronic and too complicated to ignore.

Dr Naresh Kumar Dhar, psychiatrist at the Jumeirah Prime Medical Centre, believes the disorder is genetic in nature and if untreated could lead to depression.

At an individual level there would be no problem for people with social phobia, but in a social situation they would panic, he said.

According to Dr Mohammad Yousuf, psychiatrist at Dr Moopen's Polyclinic, around 4 per cent of the population in the UAE suffers from social phobia.

Diagnosis and proper treatment are the solution. If treatment is followed diligently chances of recovery are very high, he said.

Mental illness is not the result of a weak mind or personality. It is important to be aware of it and seek help rather than suffer from within, said Dr Sreekumar. Let not the silent voices die down in a murmur or erupt as a growl, let them find the true place.

What is social phobia?

Social phobia is most commonly seen in adolescents, both boys and girls in about the same numbers. The person is afraid of and avoids going to places where he or she might have to mix with people, like social gatherings, marriage ceremonies, mosques, churches, and public places. This can interfere with their studies, jobs and social life.

People with social phobia shows a marked and 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 humiliating or embarrassing.


A person with social phobia avoids feared social situation or else will be endured with intense anxiety or distress. The avoidance or distress interferes significantly with the person's normal routine, occupational or academic performance, social activities or relationships.

- Source: WHO, and medical journals

Glossary: Road to recovery

Unani deals with preventive aspects of health problems triggered by ecological and environmental factors.

Meditation is a mental discipline through which one attempts to get beyond the reflexive, thinking mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness.

Homeopathy treats patients with heavily diluted preparations that are thought to cause effects similar to the symptoms presented.

Traditional Chinese medicine includes a range of traditional medical practices originating in China.

Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing.

Past life regression is a technique that uses hypnosis in order to recover what most practitioners believe are memories of past lives or incarnations.

Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India, which uses several methods, like herbs and massage, to cure diseases. Ayurveda emphasises re-establishing balance in the body through diet, lifestyle, exercise, and body cleansing.

Have you or anyone you know tried alternative healing or therapies? Would you try them?

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