Social anxiety sufferer Aiden Patrick has called for more to be done to help victims of the disorder which has profoundly affected his life.

The 27-year-old University of Essex student says: “Social anxiety disorder needs more recognition, so that it’s taken seriously. I just wish that people were more aware of the different problems we all go through.”

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) affects one in six young people in the UK and is linked strongly with depression and addiction.

At its worst, Aiden’s condition allowed embarrassment and fear to rule his entire life.

He says: “I remember a New Year’s Eve when I was 16 and dad asked me if I was going out to celebrate. I didn’t have any friends, but I said yes, and then spent about six hours wandering around the neighbourhood. Dad was so happy, thinking that I’d had a good time.”

Having SAD is not just being a bit shy, it is a debilitating and chronic condition which can have a profound impact on the sufferer’s life. In social situations the sufferer will not be able to stop thinking about how anxious they are and how they could make a fool of themselves. They constantly worry about get-togethers, going to the shops or even answering the door.

Aiden went to study history at the University of Essex when he was 18 and, like everyone else leaving home for the first time, he was nervous but optimistic. However, his condition had other ideas. Check out the video below to hear Aiden’s university experience:

Mum Karen, who works as a librarian at Colchester High School, remembers: “We knew there was something up with him and we tried to be understanding, but we were also worried that he was missing out on life.”

Lisa Payne is someone who helps those in Aiden’s position. The Nottingham-based cognitive behavioural therapist has over 20 years’ experience. She says: “CBT works by dividing thoughts and behaviours into helpful and unhelpful and then focusing on the unhelpful to see if we can change them. We’ll also give the patient a task to do each week.”

Aiden recalls how the sessions started off with small things like striking up a conversation with the person at the till: “It took me a few trips to pluck up the courage. I started to think of it like a video game, I had to complete missions in order to gain more experience and level up.”

His therapy also pushed Aiden out into the world of dating. He says: “My therapist encouraged me to join a dating site. Before I went on my first date, I was the most nervous I have ever been, but CBT helped me keep it in check. We didn’t have a second date but it was nice to know that I could do it, even if I must have looked absolutely terrified of her.”

Aiden is now studying history at University of Essex for the second time round – things seem to be going better.

“I decided to live in halls again, but this time I did step out the door and had some drinks with my block mates. And though I wasn’t the most talkative, I was actually taking part in conversations and I could see that a lot of them were as nervous as me.”

Aiden and his eSports Society friends on a night out.
Aiden and his eSports Society friends on a night out.

Ever the video game lover, Aiden is a member of the university eSports Society, a group which gets together to play video games with each other. He regularly meets up with them to show off his skill at games like Counter Strike and Unreal Tournament. Shouting and laughing with his team mates, he seems like a different person.

“I still struggle with SAD every day, especially using the phone, but thanks to CBT I feel so much better equipped to deal with it and get on with my life.”

Karen is pleased that her son is getting his life back together: “It’s really lovely to see Aiden making progress. We’ll love him no matter what and it’s clear that he’s now starting to love himself.”

Those with SAD can struggle with:

  • Talking in groups
  • Speaking on the phone
  • Making eye contact
  • Low self-esteem
  • Eating or drinking with company
  • Panic attacks
  • Alcohol or drug addiction