Date of this Version
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 85:2 (March 2015), pp. 131–138.
Despite the availability of effective interventions, most individuals with social anxiety disorder do not seek treatment. Given their fear of negative evaluation, socially anxious individuals might be especially susceptible to stigma concerns, a recognized barrier for mental health treatment. However, very little is known about the stigma specific to social anxiety disorder. In a design similar to Feldman and Crandall (2007), university undergraduate students read vignettes about target individuals with a generic mental illness label, major depressive disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Subjects rated each of 3 people in the vignettes on social distance and 17 dimensions including dangerousness, heritability and prevalence of the disorder, and gender ratio. Results indicated that being male and not having experience with mental health treatment was associated with somewhat greater preferred social distance. Multiple regression analyses revealed that being embarrassed by the disorder and dangerousness predicted social distance across all 3 vignettes. The vignette for social anxiety disorder had the most complex model and included work impairment, more common among women, and more avoidable. These results have implications for understanding the specific aspects of the stigma associated with social anxiety disorder. Public service messages to reduce stigma should focus on more accurate information about dangerousness and mental illness, given this is an established aspect of mental illness stigma. More nuanced messages about social anxiety might be best incorporated into the treatment referral process and as part of treatment.