social anxiety

Can depression cause social anxiety disorder? Or is the reverse true, and being socially anxious causes you to become depressed? Given the close relationship between these disorders, it is natural to ask questions about why you feel depressed if you are socially anxious, or why you may become socially anxious if you are depressed.

Feelings of anxiety and worry about being around others can evolve into feeling down in general, particularly if you isolate yourself or stop participating in activities. At the same time, loss of interest in life can also make you fear being around people for a myriad of reasons.

Social Anxiety and Depression 

Research shows that there is a strong relationship between having social anxiety disorder (SAD) and developing depression later in life.

If you have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, you are up to six times more likely to develop:

  • depression
  • dysthymia
  • bipolar disorder

The risk of developing these secondary disorders also increases in relation to the number of social fears that you have.

Other Associated Risks

If you have both SAD and depression, a 2001 study (in Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: Psychotherapy Casebook) that you are also at risk for a number of other related problems due to this combination.

  • an increased risk of problems with alcohol
  • impairments in social and occupational functioning
  • lesser response to treatment
  • risk of suicide

In addition, if you have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and also depression, you are more likely to have more severe and chronic symptoms.

SAD and Later Depression

According to a 2001 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, although developing social anxiety disorder at an early age has been linked to developing depression later on, not everyone who has SAD becomes depressed. We do know, however, that when social anxiety disorder appears at a young age, appropriate treatment may reduce the risk of developing depression at a later age.

Social Withdrawal Differs Between Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression

Imagine a young college student who wants to make friends and go to parties but fears that she will embarrass herself in front of others. As a result, she stays in her dorm room night after night, wishing she could be a part of the group.

Contrast this with the student who avoids social contact because it’s just not any fun to her–the thought of going to parties or getting together with a friend holds no promise of enjoyment.

Although both SAD and depression may involve social withdrawal, the cause of the withdrawal is different.

  • People with social anxiety disorder withdraw out of fear of negative evaluation by others.
  • People with depression withdraw due to a lack of enjoyment.

People with SAD expect that they could enjoy themselves if they could somehow interact appropriately with others, whereas those with depression don’t ever expect to enjoy themselves.

Treatment of SAD and Depression

Depression is often what leads people to seek help, even though social anxiety disorder may be the underlying problem. Usually, people who have SAD will not speak to anyone about the problems that they face and often do not realize that they have a treatable illness. As a result, most people with social anxiety disorder do not usually receive treatment unless the disorder occurs alongside another condition.

Unless a medical professional is trained to look for secondary disorders, SAD may continue to go misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, treating depression without addressing the underlying social anxiety disorder can be ineffective.

Although many of the treatments recommended for depression are also effective in treating SAD, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), treatment must still be tailored to the specific disorder.

Written by Arlin Cuncic