What is the prevalence of social anxiety disorder (SAD)? Estimates of the number of people who suffer with SAD have varied depending on the study, however the majority of research indicates that it is one of the most common mental disorders. Initial estimates of the prevalence of SAD came from two large studies described below.
Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study (ECA)
The ECA was conducted in 1992 in five communities in the United States among 18,000 adults aged 18 and older. The Diagnostic Interview Schedule (DIS) was used to assess three social fears related to social phobia. Results of the study estimated the lifetime prevalence of SAD at 2.4% of the population. These results were consistent with research conducted in the 1980s that indicated prevalence rates of 1 to 4%.
National Comorbidity Survey (NCS)
The NCS was conducted in the United States in 1996 using the SAD module from the DSM-III-R. Results showed the one-year prevalence rate of SAD to be 13.3%, and lifetime prevalence of 16%. These results are higher than those reported in the ECA, and slightly higher than those of studies conducted in other countries.
In general, the consensus is that early studies of the prevalence of social phobia underestimated the occurrence of the disorder because assessment methods had not yet been refined. According to the NIMH report, "The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America (2008)", 6.8% of the population aged 18 and older (appproximately 15 million Americans) suffer with social anxiety disorder.
What do these numbers mean for you? If you are suffering with SAD you are not alone. Although it may feel at times that no one understands the fear and anxiety that you experience, there are many people who have faced the same problems. Improvement is possible either through the use of medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with an experienced therapist, or a combination of these treatments.
Blanco C, Garcia C, Liebowitz MR. Epidemiology of social anxiety disorder. In: Bandelow B, Stein DJ, eds. Social anxiety disorder. New York: Marcel Dekker; 2004. pp. 35–47.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The numbers count: Mental disorders in America. Accessed July 1, 2009.