The Link Between Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression

A New Kind of Social Anxiety in the Classroom

The Link Between Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression

In the years since Pierce’s study, digital communication has become even more common. Between 2011 and 2013, the percentage of teens who had smartphones increased from 23 percent to 37 percent. In 2012, 81 percent of teens used some form of social media.

Anecdotally, both Pierce and Rodebaugh have seen more laptops and cell phones in the classroom.

Constant pings of texts and notifications can sometimes distract students, pulling them away from their face-to-face interactions and into the virtual world of digital communication.

One 2013 study found that the average person unlocked his or her cell phone more than 100 times per day. “It’s much easier to look at a phone than to look someone in the eye,” said parenting blogger Vanessa Van Petten in a 2013 Washington Post article.

Technology is increasingly a primary means for socializing among teens. But it’s not clear whether this has had an effect on the number of people with social anxiety.

“We don’t have data that is that intensive [about social anxiety] over the past five years,” Rodebaugh said.

Even though social anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders (about 12 percent of adults will have it at some point in their lives), researchers aren’t yet able to determine how its prevalence has changed over time; there’s still little consensus on the causes of the disorder. So there’s no proof that an increased use of technology over the past five years has led to a greater prevalence of social anxiety. Pierce plans to conduct an updated version of her 2009 study in the near future, which may shed some light on the issue.

Regardless, even if the link between technology and social anxiety were clearer, banning it in the classroom seems increasingly unly.

Teachers from kindergarten onward are embracing laptops, iPads, and video games as educational tools, using them to help students visualize complex topics in a whole new way, despite the distraction caused by texts and social media.

“Unless there were some sort of attempt to ban technology from the classroom, [that technology] will be there when most people want it to,” Rodebaugh said. “I haven’t yet made a particular policy [restricting the use of technology in the classroom]. But I’ve considered it, and I assume at some point I’ll have to.”

Pierce doesn’t think that’s the solution, though. “It’s not a matter of use or no use, it’s what kind of use,” she said. “When we take away all face-to-face communication and our young people stay in their rooms and stare at their screens, we do them a disservice.

” A good comparison, she says, is how people view tests—some prefer multiple-choice while others want only open-ended questions. Using technology in the right way means giving students a balance and options with their devices, both academically and socially.

“We can’t lose the social skills, we can’t lose the technology—we have to have both. We have to go back to that balance,” Pierce said.

For teens that feel socially anxious, Pierce suggests that they use technology less at home (especially for those who let it disrupt their sleep). Rodebaugh added that there are a number of treatments for social anxiety, which involve medication or therapy. “People don’t have to continue to suffer if they don’t want to,” he said.

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Alexandra Ossola is a science writer based in New York. She has contributed to Popular Science, Motherboard, and Scienceline.

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The Link Between Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression

The Link Between Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression

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Can depression cause social anxiety disorder? Or is the reverse true, and being socially anxious causes you to become depressed? Given the close relationship between these disorders, it is natural to ask questions about why you feel depressed if you are socially anxious, or why you may become socially anxious if you are depressed.

Feelings of anxiety and worry about being around others can evolve into feeling down in general, particularly if you isolate yourself or stop participating in activities. At the same time, certain symptoms of depression can also make you fear being around people for a myriad of reasons.

Research shows that there is a strong relationship between having social anxiety disorder (SAD) and developing depression later in life.

The generalized type of social anxiety disorder is also associated with an increased co-occurrence with major depressive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcohol use disorders among others. 

If you have both SAD and depression, a 2001 study (in Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: Psychotherapy Casebook) shows that you are also at risk for a number of other related problems due to this combination. 

In addition, if you have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and also depression, you are more ly to have more severe and chronic symptoms.

According to a 2001 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, although developing social anxiety disorder at an early age has been linked to developing depression later on, not everyone who has SAD becomes depressed.

When social anxiety disorder appears at a young age, appropriate treatment may reduce the risk of developing depression at a later age.

Imagine a young college student who wants to make friends and go to parties but fears that she will embarrass herself in front of others. As a result, she stays in her dorm room night after night, wishing she could be a part of the group. 

Contrast this with the student who avoids social contact because it's just not any fun to her–the thought of going to parties or getting together with a friend holds no promise of enjoyment.

Although both SAD and depression may involve social withdrawal, the cause of the withdrawal is different.

  • People with social anxiety disorder withdraw fear of negative evaluation by others.
  • People with depression withdraw due to a lack of enjoyment.

People with SAD expect that they could enjoy themselves if they could somehow interact appropriately with others, whereas those with depression don't ever expect to enjoy themselves.

Depression is often what leads people to seek help, even though social anxiety disorder may be the underlying problem.

Usually, people who have SAD will not speak to anyone about the problems that they face and often do not realize that they have a treatable illness.

As a result, most people with social anxiety disorder do not usually receive treatment unless the disorder occurs alongside another condition.

Unless a medical professional is trained to look for secondary disorders, SAD may continue to go misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, treating depression without addressing the underlying social anxiety disorder can be ineffective.

Although many of the treatments recommended for depression are also effective in treating SAD, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), treatment must still be tailored to the specific disorder.

If you experience both SAD and depression, your doctor or mental health professional will devise a treatment plan designed to address symptoms of both disorders.

If you've not yet sought a diagnosis for symptoms of anxiety or depression that you are experiencing, it is important to make an appointment. Earlier diagnosis and treatment is related to better outcomes in terms of depression resulting after social anxiety disorder.

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  1. Douglas S. Comorbid Major Depression and Social Phobia. Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: Psychotherapy Casebook. 2001; 3(4): 179-180.

  2. Stein MB, Fuetsch M, Müller N, Höfler M, Lieb R, Wittchen H-U. Social Anxiety Disorder and the Risk of Depression: A Prospective Community Study of Adolescents and Young Adults. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2001; 58: 251-256.

Additional Reading

  • Hales RE, Yudofsky SC. (Eds.). (2003). The American Psychiatry Publishing Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric.