Social Anxiety in Adolescents Could Result in Higher Suicidal Ideation

Ground Picture /
Ground Picture /

Social anxiety happens to the best of us. However, it is higher in today’s generation of adolescents. And a new study shows that this could be problematic because it doesn’t just stop at a bit of anxiety to “get over.”

A recent study published in JCPP Advances reveals that adolescents diagnosed with social anxiety disorder are significantly more likely to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts two years after the initial appearance of social anxiety symptoms.

“Social Anxiety Disorder typically develops in adolescence and is associated with multiple adverse outcomes during adolescence, such as poorer social functioning, poorer academic performance, suicidal ideation, and depressive symptoms,” stated Kenny Chiu, a clinical lecturer at UEA’s Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychological Therapies, along with his colleagues in the study. They noted that adolescence is a period when social relationships are particularly rewarding, yet social anxiety can lead to avoidance of social interactions. When adolescents with social anxiety do engage, their performance may be hindered by safety behaviors, increasing their vulnerability to negative peer feedback or rejection.

“These negative interpersonal outcomes may trigger a sense of worthlessness (e.g. ‘I am a failure.’ ‘Nobody wants me around’) and hopelessness (e.g. ‘I will always be alone,’ ‘I will never be good enough for anything or anyone’), reducing their sense of achievement, connection, and pleasure and promoting avoidance. These depressive symptoms can not only maintain their social anxiety but also lead them to believe that they will never fit in and that they are a burden to others,” the authors explained. They further highlighted that such feelings of thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness could lead to suicidal thoughts, as suicide may appear to be the only solution. Moreover, these depressive symptoms could persist over years, particularly when adolescents strongly harbor negative social fears and avoid social situations.

The study involved 2,397 young individuals aged 14 to 24 from the United Kingdom, recruited from 50 clinics of general practitioners and schools in Cambridgeshire, London, and surrounding areas between 2012 and 2017. Participants completed detailed questionnaires about their mental health, focusing on symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety. Questions included statements like “I worry about what other people think of me”, “I feel that others do not like the way I do things”, and “I worry about what my parents will say to me”, aiming to gauge their social anxiety levels.

After two years of follow-up, the researchers identified social anxiety as a “significant predictor” of suicidal ideation within that timeframe.