Overcoming the Stresses and Stigma of Social Anxiety

Talat is reflecting by a window

Talat from Hamilton began to feel anxious and shaky around other people. He grew increasingly stressed at school and he began to worry incessantly about what his teachers were thinking about him. His emotional state kept getting worse and it soon progressed to full-blown panic attacks.

“Initially, I was hesitant to tell anyone about this because I felt ashamed,” recalls Talat. “Then I decided to confide in my mother and sister, and it felt good opening up about how I felt.”

Reaching out for help

After consulting with his family physician, Talat was referred to Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre. The Centre’s outpatient mental health services, combined with the inpatient program at McMaster Children’s Hospital, make up the largest pediatric mental health program in Canada.

Talat began appointments with Dr. Paulo Pires, the Clinical Director of Child and Youth Mental Health.

“With anxiety and depression on the rise, it’s important for people to have access to programs like this so they can journey toward recovery and better mental health.”

“I was diagnosed with moderate social anxiety order,” explains Talat. “My sense of self-worth and my perceptions of myself were big struggles. My conversations with Dr. Pires helped me break down my thoughts so I could really examine why I was feeling anxious.”

A better understanding

Talat participated in a 12-week program of group therapy, which allowed him to share his experiences with other young people and learn about how others were managing their own social anxiety.

Dr. Paulo Pires and Talat are sitting and having a conversation

Dr. Paulo Pires and Talat

“We would also participate in ‘exposure therapy,’ which meant going to places like a shopping mall and doing social activities we’re not comfortable with,” says Talat. “To challenge ourselves, we’d approach strangers and ask for the time, then we’d debrief afterwards to see how we felt about the situation.”

After completing the 12-week program, Talat has a much better understanding of himself and he is determined to experience life to its fullest without letting the disorder get in the way.

Outside the comfort zone

“Now I feel less stressed in social settings,” he says. “I still experience social anxiety, but I’ve learned how to manage it. I’ve even joined the Air Cadets to force myself out of my comfort zone.”

Talat is sharing his story to help focus attention on the importance of mental health care for children and youth.

With anxiety and depression on the rise, it’s important for people to have access to programs like this so they can journey toward recovery and better mental health. I’m grateful for the compassionate care I received, which made a real difference in my life.”