Social anxiety disorder prevalent amongst college students

My palms are sweating. Eyes are darting. Heartbeat racing. I’m going to be sick. Don’t pay attention to me. What are they thinking? This is how approximately 15 million American adults feel daily when confronted with social situations, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

About 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations. It’s not simply shyness or a fear of public speaking. Psychologist Phil Topham estimates that at least 10 percent of college students suffer from significant social anxiety, according to UWE Bristol.

Social anxiety disorder can make people feel like outsiders, wishing they could hide from the scrutinization of others. Michelle Clark poses for a photo illustration depicting the effects of social anxiety on an individual.

Alissa Woodward, 18, is an advertising major at Kent State University who suffers from social anxiety disorder. 2015 marks her freshman year of college, and she speaks of the many struggles that she faces in order to succeed in classes as well as achieve her dreams.

“It makes it harder for [me] to participate in class and answer questions and get my opinions out,” says Woodward. “Some people don’t understand the extent of anxiety I get, and they underestimate things that I’m held back from. There’s not as much help for it as I wish there was.”

“You don’t have to live that way”
Alissa Woodward, 18, struggles with social anxiety disorder as a communication major at Kent State University.

Symptoms of social anxiety disorder include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea or other abdominal distress, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, headaches and feelings of detachment and loss of self-control. Students who experience these symptoms in social situations may feel like outsiders, believing that they are the only ones who feel like this. However, social anxiety is the second most prevalent mental disorder according to Kent State psychologist Karin Coifman.

Getting help on campus for a suspected mental illness is simple. By going to the DeWeese Health Center on campus at 1500 Eastway Drive, students are able to get screened for various mental illnesses, which then allows them to get diagnosed. Once diagnosed, Kent State offers free services such as counseling and referrals for medication.

The form to apply for accommodations through Student Accessibility Services is simple. It requires a doctor or other psychological expert to rate how extensive the effects of the student’s disability are.

Kent State Student Accessibility Services (SAS) offers accommodations for those with disabilities on campus. However, social anxiety disorder isn’t commonly accommodated.

“Some common accommodations for students with a wide range of disabilities include more time for tests, a reduced distraction testing environment and the ability to tape record lectures,” said Kent campus’s director of Student Accessibility Services Amy Quillin. “It depends on what the effects on [the student] are from the social anxiety as to what, if any, accommodations we’d be able to put into place.”

Students with social anxiety disorder will often struggle with simple tasks, such as leaving their room to study amongst peers.

A common issue for students who suffer from social anxiety disorder is attending and participating in classes that focus on public speaking, such as the Kent core requirement Introduction to Human Communication. It’s up to the student to approach their professor and ask for accommodations to lessen the effects of their social anxiety. Although without being registered with SAS, whether the accommodations are made is entirely up to the professor.

“I had a very bright student who absolutely could not speak in front of the class. I tried and tried to get her to do it because I wanted her to try to get over it. You never get over that stuff. She tried and she just couldn’t do it,” says communication professor James Trebing. “So what I had her do was write a paper. That didn’t solve the problem, but at least we had her get through the class.”

“Psychologically, avoidance is the worst thing we can do”

However, this accommodation offered by certain professors isn’t necessarily beneficial to those suffering from social anxiety disorder.

Many free resources are made available to students at Kent State University who are struggling with mental illness. The DeWeese Health Centers offers free mental health screening, counseling and referrals to outside doctors for prescriptions.

“Allowing a student to avoid does not help the student. It’s a difficult situation because you don’t want a student to feel uncomfortable in your class,” says clinical psychologist Angela Neal. “Psychologically, avoidance is the worst thing we can do. So if the accommodation is to allow the student to be excluded from the participation piece, clinically that’s just counterintuitive.”

Social anxiety disorder is common amongst college students. If you are struggling from symptoms of social anxiety disorder, there are multiple resources on campus at Kent State University for you to take advantage of: