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Mental Health officials estimate 30-thousand Central Ohioans suffer from Social Anxiety

For hundreds of thousands of Americans the thought of making a phone call or a trip to the grocery produces flushed faces and clammy hands. Mental health experts call the condition Social Anxiety and they estimate 30-thousand Central Ohioans suffer from it. W-O-S-U'S Marilyn Smith reports.

Long, honey-colored hair and clear blue eyes give 50-something Jackie lawrence a youthful air. A school librarian, she handles her job much like she handles other situations in her life. Jackie steels herself before talking on the phone or making a trip to the store. She goes through a "dress rehearsal" mentally practicing conversations that may arise. For the most part Jackie admits it's just easier to avoid social situations. Jackie describes a childhood characterized by crippling shyness. In fact she traces one of her most painful memories to elementary school when her father asked her to do an errand which would take her to the principal's office. Jackie was frozen by the request and couldn't carry it out.

Two marriages and four children later Jackie Lawrence struggles daily with fears both real and perceived. a routine trip to the store or a phone call can be daunting.

Dr. Christopher Kovell is a psychiatrist with the ADAM-H board. he says Ssocial Anxiety goes beyond mere shyness. He advises parents who recognize some of the symptoms of social anxiety in their small children to gently bring them out of their shell to avoid bigger problems later on. Jackie hopes her children escape the battles she's waged against social anxiety. she describes one of the four as shy but not debilitatingly so. Like most Moms, Jackie speaks fondly of her kids but unlike most Moms, Jackie relies on her children if she becomes panic-stricken. While enabling an alcoholic or drug abuser may be frowned upon in the case of a person suffering from social anxiety Dr. Lovell says a little help might be just what the doctor ordered.

As a psychiatrist Dr. Kovell acknowledges drugs currently being marketed for the treatment of panic attacks or social anxiety. However, Kovell believes the drugs are far more effective when used in conjunction with Cognitive Behavior Therapy. He says the goal is for the patient to confront his or her fears and move beyond them. In the case of someone who is anxious in the presence of others .therapy could culminate in a public speech.

Jackie has little interest in therapy per se and even less in public speaking. but despite her initial discomfort, Jackie was able to participate in this interview for radio not easy even for the so-called well adjusted. But Jackie explains even though this conversation made her uncomfortable, it allowed her to help others .and herself.

Marilyn Smith, WOSU News