"Belonging to a user organization is a great help in many ways. It is good to feel part of a group of individuals suffering from a common illness, as opposed to feeling isolated with a problem one does not understand and which makes one feel ashamed.
I have suffered from social anxiety since youth, and have tried various forms of therapy from the age of twenty. Psychoanalysis-based therapies brought little relief, and it is only since CBT, Cognitive behavioural therapy, has become widely used in France over the last ten years, that I have had much better results in improving my social difficulties. I still receive psychotherapy, however. It has taken a long time to find the right places to go, and CBT treatment centres in France are still largely understaffed.
My family did not really know how to react when my difficulties started, except to see them as personality traits. Of course, there was not much information to be had on social anxiety at the time, and my parents were sceptical of psychotherapists in general.
I think my friends had similar difficulties in identifying my social anxiety as a mental health problem. For quite a few people it is hard to separate the person from his personality-based difficulties, and I have often felt condemned for behaviour that is a result of my problem. On several occasions my mental health problems have created situations that have made colleagues at work uncomfortable, which in turn has made me less efficient and/or sociable.
In general, when people can see that my anxiety is a form of illness, however, they tend to be understanding and supportive.
I believe that the stigma and discrimination can be reduced through better information via the general media channels, and through creating heightened awareness in certain key professional groups, such as teachers, social workers etcetera.
I would also like to see much more information for patients about the different types of available treatment. Well, about anything that can prevent the feeling that there is no solution to the problem, really.
Personally, I talk openly about my experience with my girlfriend and intimate friends, but most of all, and most intimately, in Mediagora, which is a user group for people with anxiety-based problems. It is based in Paris, has existed since 1998 and represents our group in various federative meetings with other such organizations in France.
I first learned about Mediagora meetings on the Internet. To begin with it was a relief to find like-minded people I could share my difficulties with. Eventually I felt concerned about trying to help others get information as well, and became more involved in the work.
Finding Mediagora has been one of the most important factors in my recovery. Finding a therapist who has been willing to spend the necessary time working with me on an individual CBT-basis has been another, alongside with the support from close friends. Being able to adapt my work schedule to suit my slowed-down activity has also been vital. I cannot do any type of work, because the demands that might be placed on me could induce another bout of illness.
The factors that have impeded my recovery have been the lack of information plus the psychoanalysis-based therapy that I started out with, which simply did not address behavioural problems as directly as CBT. (On the other hand it never pretended to do so. In psychoanalysis you get someone who listens to you, which is a very important aid in finding one’s own solutions. To the contrary, in CBT, the therapist quite often does not listen to you, because he knows beforehand what needs to be done in your case – and too bad if you do not agree!)"