Should shyness be cured with anti-depressants?

The NHS watchdog NICE is to investigate whether anti-depressants should be given to those suffering from acute shyness

The Department of Health has ordered a review into treatments available for social anxiety disorder. The move comes after experts expressed concern at the growing use of drugs to treat extreme shyness.

The review by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence will look at the effectiveness of all treatments offered for social phobia on the NHS, including drugs, councelling and surgery, and whether these treatments are necessary.

The health watchdog claims that one in eight will suffer from the social anxiety disorder during their lifetime, causing panic attacks, blushing and sweating.

‘Some people will find parties and public speaking more difficult than others,’ says Dr Joanna Moncrieff, a consultant psychologist at University College London. ‘But it can be extremely damaging to label them with a medical disorder that needs treatment.’

The concept of social anxiety disorder or social phobia has only entered mainstream medicine in the last couple of decades and some experts say pharmaceutical companies are in danger of ‘medicalising’ normal behaviour.

Dr Moncrieff says that prescribing treatment for social shyness is effectively telling people that they can’t deal with things themselves, subsequently making the situation worse.

Dr Louise Foxcroft, author of Hot Flushes, Cold Science, warns: ‘You have to question the role of pharmaceutical industry and the influence they hold over medicalisation of so many behaviours and emotions that are common to us – this is big business.’

‘But this isn’t about common shyness,’ says consultant psychiatrist at Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust, Dr Kendall. ‘This is about a level of anxiety that can prevent people establishing relationships. For people who suffer from serious anxiety disorder, it can ruin their life.’

Should the NHS prescribe treatment for those who suffer in social situations? Where do you draw the line between common shyness and social anxiety? Let us know your thoughts below.

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