When is introversion an issue?

Knowing the difference between someone who is shy, anti-social, asocial or has a social phobia is key to understanding how to offer support. (Source: Shutterstock)

People with agoraphobia may find that the pandemic normalised a very serious condition, with many people who have a social phobia actively trying to overcome feelings of isolation.

Key points:

  • Social phobia or ‘agoraphobia,’ was originally recognised as someone who fears crossing open spaces — following the pandemic, many aren’t sure when introversion becomes something else
  • Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder which induces debilitating panic and dread in someone who has to leave their home and interact with others
  • Being ‘shy’ or ‘introverted’ is a common trait, as discomfort in social situations is a very common feeling which can dissuade people from awkward meetings — however, when it actively impairs your ability to function in society, it becomes a psychosocial disability

 

This edition of Disability Support Guide will cover agoraphobia, along with how to tell when someone is living with an anxiety disorder, rather than simply keeping to themselves. This article will address symptoms of agoraphobia, treatments and misconceptions surrounding the condition.

Mental afflictions are often ineligible for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding, but for psychosocial disabilities (conditions which impair people from functioning in a severe way, with a path to recovery). As agoraphobia may prevent a person from seeking support, let alone shopping, working or socialising — a person with agoraphobia may be able to receive funding through the NDIS.

What is agoraphobia?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-V), lists the following criteria for a diagnosis of agoraphobia:

 

A marked fear or anxiety about two (or more) of the following five situations:

  • Using public transportation
  • Being in open spaces
  • Being in enclosed spaces, such as: shops, theatres, cinemas
  • Standing in line or being in a crowd
  • Being outside the home alone

 

As an anxiety disorder, agoraphobia leaves people with an intense fear of public spaces and the likelihood of social interaction. The sense of panic which people experience as a result of the condition can induce attacks, which may lead a person to feel short of breath, disorientated, mental exhaustion and may lead to profuse sweating.

After the pandemic, it is natural to feel shy or experience difficulties with interpersonal communication upon returning to day-to-day life outside, however, isolation becomes a problem when a person is unable to leave their house without fear. Generally, a diagnosis of agoraphobia — as outlined in the DSM-V — requires a period of six months or more, in order to accurately reflect the condition of a subject.

Additionally, agoraphobia may be brought on by a traumatic event or experience, which leads a person to avoid social settings and establish a sense of safety in their own premises. As a result, agoraphobia may overlap with other anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Treatment for agoraphobia

People with agoraphobia will be naturally averse to seeking treatment due to the nature of the condition, which is why it is of the utmost importance to check in on loved ones if you have not heard or seen from them in a while.

Treatment for agoraphobia may consist of talk-therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication or support for self-help and relaxation to combat panic. Due to the depression which can arise as a result of agoraphobia, people with the condition should be aware of and avoid potentially detrimental coping mechanisms, such as alcohol or substance abuse, as these may further the spiral of isolation pain.

Misconceptions about agoraphobia

A person with agoraphobia is not just ‘shy’ or ‘introverted,’ but deeply pained by the idea of leaving their perceived ‘safe space,’ such as a home or specific room. People often conflate the terms ‘asocial’ and antisocial to describe the behaviour of an agoraphobic person, but ‘antisocial’ behaviour is not indicative of agoraphobia. The prefix ‘a’ refers to a lack of social interaction, whereas the prefix ‘anti’ refers to an opposition to social settings. Antisocial behaviour is indicative of sociopathy, psychopathy, Antisocial Personality Disorder ASPD) or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Agoraphobia is not a permanent affliction and the road to recovery is attainable for people through counselling and seeking help.

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