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Original Article
November 2000

Social Phobia Symptoms, Subtypes, and Severity: Findings From a Community Survey

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego (Dr Stein); and the Departments of Psychiatry and Clinical Health Psychology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg (Drs Torgrud and Walker).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2000;57(11):1046-1052. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.57.11.1046

Objectives  Our goals were (1) to ascertain the range of functional impairment attributable to social phobia in a community sample, and (2) to verify the existence of social phobia subtypes in the community, and report on their relative prevalence, severity, and levels of impairment.

Methods  Community surveys were conducted contemporaneously in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and in Alberta, with a total of 1956 respondents. Instruments included the Comprehensive International Diagnostic Interview–Version 2.1 module for DSM-IV social phobia, enhanced with 6 additional (for a total of 12) social phobic situational probes to provide a more comprehensive assessment of possible subtypes, and additional questions about specific functional impairment due to social phobia.

Results  Of those persons in the community surveyed, most had no (60.4%) or few (ie, 1-3) (27.8%) social fears; few persons (3.4%) had many (ie, ≥7). Among those with DSM-IV social phobia (7.2%), classification based on number (normally distributed with median of 3, mode of 5) or content (eg, speaking-only vs other fears; performance-only vs interactional fears) of social fears failed to yield a defensible subtyping solution. Impairment increased linearly as the number of social fears was increased, with no clear threshold evident.

Conclusions  Social phobia is associated with substantial impairment in multiple functional domains. Support for subtyping based on the extent or pattern of social fears was not provided. Rather, social phobia in the community seems to exist on a continuum of severity, with a greater number of feared situations associated with greater disability.