Hippocrates described someone who ‘through bashfulness, suspicion, and timorousness, will not be seen abroad; loves darkness as life and cannot endure the light or to sit in lightsome places; his hat still in his eyes, he will neither see, nor be seen by his good will.
He dare not come in company for fear he should be misused, disgraced, overshoot himself in gesture or speeches, or be sick; he thinks every man observes him’.
Charles Darwin wrote about the physiology and social context of blushing and shyness.
The first mention of a psychiatric term, social phobia (“phobie des situations sociales”), was made in the early 1900s.
Psychologists used the term “social neurosis” to describe extremely shy patients in the 1930s.
After extensive work by Joseph Wolpe on systematic desensitization, research in phobias and their treatment grew.
The idea that social phobia was a separate entity from other phobias came from the British psychiatrist Isaac Marks, in the 1960s.
This was accepted by the American Psychiatric Association and was first officially included in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The definition of the phobia was revised in 1989 to allow comorbidity with avoidant personality disorder, and introduced generalized social phobia.
Social phobia had been largely ignored prior to 1985.
After a call to action by psychiatrist Michael Liebowitz and clinical psychologist Richard Heimberg, there was an increase in attention to and research on the disorder.
The DSM-IV gave social phobia the alternative name Social Anxiety Disorder. Research on the psychology and sociology of everyday social anxiety continued.
Cognitive Behavioural models and therapies were developed for social anxiety disorder. In the 1990s, paroxetine became the first prescription drug in the U.S. approved to treat social anxiety disorder, with others following.
Social phobia in many cases can be an extremely debilitating disorder, especially because one who struggles with it often suffers alone.