Social Anxiety Disorder – DSM5

Disclaimer: Use this information for reference only. Please do no self diagnose. You must see a doctor or a mental health professional to get proper diagnosis.


Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)

Diagnostic Criteria 300.23 (F40.10)

  1. Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. Examples include social interactions (e.g., having a conversation, meeting unfamiliar people), being observed (e.g., eating or drinking), and performing in front of others (e.g., giving a speech).

Note: In children, the anxiety must occur in peer settings and not just during interactions with adults.

  • The individual fears that he or she will act in a way or show anxiety symptoms that will be negatively evaluated (i.e., will be humiliating or embarrassing: will lead to rejection or offend others).
  • The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.

Note: In children, the fear or anxiety may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, clinging, shrinking, or failing to speak in social situations.

  • The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety. 
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation and to the sociocultural context.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition.
  1. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder, such as panic disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, or autism spectrum disorder.
  • If another medical condition (e.g., Parkinson’s disease, obesity, disfigurement from bums or injury) is present, the fear, anxiety, or avoidance is clearly unrelated or is excessive.

Specify if:

Performance only: If the fear is restricted to speaking or performing in public.


Individuals with the performance only type of social anxiety disorder have performance fears that are typically most impairing in their professional lives (e.g., musicians, dancers, performers, athletes) or in roles that require regular public speaking. Performance fears may also manifest in work, school, or academic settings in which regular public presentations are required. Individuals with performance only social anxiety disorder do not fear or avoid nonperformance social situations.

Diagnostic Features

The essential feature of social anxiety disorder is a marked, or intense, fear or anxiety of social situations in which the individual may be scrutinized by others. In children the fear or anxiety must occur in peer settings and not just during interactions with adults (Criterion A). When exposed to such social situations, the individual fears that he or she will be negatively evaluated. The individual is concerned that he or she will be judged as anxious, weak, crazy, stupid, boring, intimidating, dirty, or unlikable. The individual fears that he or she will act or appear in a certain way or show anxiety symptoms, such as blushing, trembling, sweating, stumbling over one’s words, or staring, that will be negatively evaluated by others (Criterion B). Some individuals fear offending others or being rejected as a result. Fear of offending others—for example, by a gaze or by showing anxiety symptoms—may be the predominant fear in individuals from cultures with strong collectivistic orientations. An individual with fear of trembling of the hands may avoid drinking, eating, writing, or pointing in public; an individual with fear of sweating may avoid shaking hands or eating spicy foods; and an individual with fear of blushing may avoid public performance, bright lights, or discussion about intimate topics. Some individuals fear and avoid urinating in public restrooms when other individuals are present (i.e., paruresis, or “shy bladder syndrome”).

The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety (Criterion C). Thus, an individual who becomes anxious only occasionally in the social situation(s) would not be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. However, the degree and type of fear and anxiety may vary (e.g., anticipatory anxiety, a panic attack) across different occasions. The anticipatory anxiety may occur sometimes far in advance of upcoming situations (e.g., worrying every day for weeks before attending a social event, repeating a speech for days in advance). In children, the fear or anxiety may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, clinging, or shrinking in social situations. The individual will often avoid the feared social situations. Alternatively, the situations are endured with intense fear or anxiety (Criterion D). Avoidance can be extensive (e.g., not going to parties, refusing school) or subtle (e.g., overpreparing the text of a speech, diverting attention to others, limiting eye contact).

The fear or anxiety is judged to be out of proportion to the actual risk of being negatively evaluated or to the consequences of such negative evaluation (Criterion E). Sometimes, the anxiety may not be judged to be excessive, because it is related to an actual danger (e.g., being bullied or tormented by others). However, individuals with social anxiety disorder often overestimate the negative consequences of social situations, and thus the judgment of being out of proportion is made by the clinician. The individual’s sociocultural context needs to be taken into account when this judgment is being made. For example, in certain cultures, behavior that might otherwise appear socially anxious may be considered appropriate in social situations (e.g., might be seen as a sign of respect).The duration of the disturbance is typically at least 6 months (Criterion F). 

This duration threshold helps distinguish the disorder from transient social fears that are common, particularly among children and in the community. However, the duration criterion should be used as a general guide, with allowance for some degree of flexibility. The fear, anxiety, and avoidance must interfere significantly with the individual’s normal routine, occupational or academic functioning, or social activities or relationships, or must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (Criterion G). For example, an individual who is afraid to speak in public would not receive a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder if this activity is not routinely encountered on the job or in classroom work, and if the individual is not significantly distressed about it. However, if the individual avoids, or is passed over for, the job or education he or she really wants because of social anxiety symptoms. Criterion G is met.

Associated Features Supporting Diagnosis

Individuals with social anxiety disorder may be inadequately assertive or excessively submissive or, less commonly, highly controlling of the conversation. They may show overly rigid body posture or inadequate eye contact, or speak with an overly soft voice. These individuals may be shy or withdrawn, and they may be less open in conversations and disclose little about themselves. They may seek employment in jobs that do not require social contact, although this is not the case for individuals with social anxiety disorder, performance only. They may live at home longer. Men may be delayed in marrying and having a family, whereas women who would want to work outside the home may live a life as homemaker and mother. Self-medication with substances is common (e.g., drinking before going to a party). Social anxiety among older adults may also include exacerbation of symptoms of medical illnesses, such as increased tremor or tachycardia. Blushing is a hallmark physical response of social anxiety disorder.


The 12-month prevalence estimate of social anxiety disorder for the United States is approximately 7%. Lower 12-month prevalence estimates are seen in much of the world using the same diagnostic instrument, clustering around 0.5%-2.0%; median prevalence in Europe is 2.3%. The 12-month prevalence rates in children and adolescents are comparable to those in adults. Prevalence rates decrease with age. The 12-month prevalence for older adults ranges from 2% to 5%. In general, higher rates of social anxiety disorder are found in females than in males in the general population (with odds ratios ranging from 1.5 to 2.2), and the gender difference in prevalence is more pronounced in adolescents and young adults. Gender rates are equivalent or slightly higher for males in clinical samples, and it is assumed that gender roles and social expectations play a significant role in explaining the heightened help-seeking behavior in male patients. Prevalence in the United States is higher in American Indians and lower in persons of Asian, Latino, African American, and Afro-Caribbean descent compared with non-Hispanic whites.

Development and Course

Median age at onset of social anxiety disorder in the United States is 13 years, and 75% of individuals have an age at onset between 8 and 15 years. The disorder sometimes emerges out of a childhood history of social inhibition or shyness in U.S. and European studies. Onset can also occur in early childhood. Onset of social anxiety disorder may follow a stressful or humiliating experience (e.g., being bullied, vomiting during a public speech), or it may be insidious, developing slowly. First onset in adulthood is relatively rare and is more likely to occur after a stressful or humiliating event or after life changes that require new social roles (e.g., marrying someone from a different social class, receiving a job promotion). Social anxiety disorder may diminish after an individual with fear of dating marries and may reemerge after divorce. Among individuals presenting to clinical care, the disorder tends to be particularly persistent.

Adolescents endorse a broader pattern of fear and avoidance, including of dating, compared with younger children. Older adults express social anxiety at lower levels but across a broader range of situations, whereas younger adults express higher levels of social anxiety for specific situations. In older adults, social anxiety may concern disability due to declining sensory functioning (hearing, vision) or embarrassment about one’s appearance (e.g., tremor as a symptom of Parkinson’s disease) or functioning due to medical conditions, incontinence, or cognitive impairment (e.g., forgetting people’s names). In the community approximately 30% of individuals with social anxiety disorder experience remission of symptoms within 1 year, and about 50% experience remission within a few years. For approximately 60% of individuals without a specific treatment for social anxiety disorder, the course takes several years or longer.

Detection of social anxiety disorder in older adults may be challenging because of several factors, including a focus on somatic symptoms, comorbid medical illness, limited insight, changes to social environment or roles that may obscure impairment in social functioning, or reticence about describing psychological distress.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. DSM contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. It provides a common language for clinicians to communicate about their patients and establishes consistent and reliable diagnoses that can be used in the research of mental disorders. It also provides a common language for researchers to study the criteria for potential future revisions and to aid in the development of medications and other interventions.

Artwork by: Toby Allen