Psychological Medicine

Social fears and social phobia in a community sample of adolescents and young adults: prevalence, risk factors and co-morbidity

H.-U. WITTCHEN a1c1, M. B. STEIN a1 and R. C. KESSLER a1
a1 Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Clinical Psychology and Epidemiology, Munich, Germany


Background. The paper describes prevalence, impairments, patterns of co-morbidity and other correlates of DSM-IV social phobia in adolescents and young adults, separating generalized and non-generalized social phobics.

Methods. Data are derived from the baseline investigation of the Early Developmental Stages of Psychopathology Study (EDSP), a prospective longitudinal community study of 3021 subjects, aged 14–24. Diagnoses were based on the DSM-IV algorithms of an expanded version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview.

Results. Lifetime prevalence of DSM-IV/CIDI social phobia was 9·5% in females and 4·9% in males, with about one-third being classified as generalized social phobics. Twelve-month prevalence was only slightly lower, indicating considerable persistence. Respondents with generalized social phobia reported an earlier age of onset, higher symptom persistence, more co-morbidity, more severe impairments, higher treatment rates and indicated more frequently a parental history of mental disorders than respondents with non-generalized social phobia.

Conclusions. History of DSM-IV social phobia was found to be quite prevalent in 14–24 year-olds. The generalized subtype of social phobia was found to have different correlates and to be considerably more persistent, impairing and co-morbid than non-generalized social phobia. Although generalized social phobics are more likely than non-generalized social phobics to receive mental health treatments, the treatment rate in this sample was low despite the fact that mental health services are free in Germany.

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Clinical Psychology and Epidemiology, Kraepelinstrasse 2, 80804 München, Germany.