The last fifty years have been characterized by rapid change.
Those born in the 70s and 80s remember the dawn of the internet, the advent of the cellphone, and, more recently, the birth of social media. These innovations carry far-reaching consequences, and yet no more so than another recent development that rarely gets the press it deserves: the revolution in how science (and society) treats mental health.
Not until the mid-twentieth-century did researchers hypothesize that depression stems from chemical imbalances in the brain, and it was only in the 1970s that the term major depressive disorder was introduced. Since then, our collective understanding of the many mental health illnesses that exist has advanced tremendously, and yet work remains to be done. One common misunderstanding that merits clarification is the difference between social anxiety and agoraphobia—two unique ailments often linked to depression—not only because such understanding supports greater compassion, but because it also facilitates proper treatment.
Social anxiety (sometimes referred to as social phobia) is defined clinically as a long-term and overwhelming fear of social situations. Frequently, this fear is rooted in worry about embarrassment, or concern that the individual will either be offensive or otherwise rejected. Sufferers experience high levels of anxiety when navigating social contact and, as a result, sometimes choose to avoid the experience altogether. Such isolation sometimes leads to alcohol or substance abuse which, in turn, drives further health implications.
Social anxiety symptoms include feelings of illness, sweating, blushing, heart palpitations, and trembling. A rigid body posture, difficulty making eye contact, and use of soft voice tones are additional anxiety symptoms. Panic attack are also common.
To the untrained individual, agoraphobia may present like social anxiety and yet it is different in important ways. Instead of experiencing fear of embarrassment or rejection, those who suffer from agoraphobia fear situations wherein they may experience uncontrollable panic or anxiety. While no two cases are the same, common triggering situations include open spaces, enclosed spaces, crowds, public transportation, and being alone while far from home. The defining feature of agoraphobia is disproportionate anxiety with respect to the risk posed by a given situation.
Like social anxiety, symptoms of agoraphobia include heart palpitations, feelings of illness, sweating, and trembling. Difficulty breathing, dizziness, and headache are also common. In severe cases, individuals may feel out of control or carry the sense that they are dying. Without proper treatment, agoraphobia can lead to a refusal to leave home and may provoke substance abuse issues.
Treating Social Anxiety and Agoraphobia
Standard treatment for these related but distinct mental health afflictions often delivers inadequate results. Fortunately, research is ongoing and recent breakthroughs are promising. Ketamine is a powerful N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor antagonist which has been shown in studies to provide a new mechanism of action for the treatment of both social anxiety and agoraphobia. When used for this purpose, ketamine is delivered via intravenous infusion in low doses at periodic intervals with minimal side effects. However promising this may sound—and it is!—it is important to underscore that ketamine therapy is most effective when used in conjunction with an existing treatment plan, which is why it is crucial to correctly distinguish and diagnose social anxiety and agoraphobia.
To learn more about ketamine infusion therapy and its potential to treat not only anxiety disorders, but a range of mental health afflictions do not hesitate to contact us at Vitalitas Denver—a specialized mental health and ketamine treatment clinic with locations in Denver and Westminster, CO.