The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

She's just shy.

The little girl is quiet, hiding behind her mother’s legs and bashfully peeking out at the world. It’s a common sight. “She’s just shy,” her mother explains. However, would a better description be “she’s just got mental health problems?”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is the go-to guide for all mental health disorders, symptoms, and treatments. The latest edition of the DSM has proposed to include shyness in children, along with internet addiction and depression caused by bereavement, as a definable mental health problem. With the proposals set to be adopted in the UK next year, British psychologists have been voicing their opposition to the classifications. Many have seen it as a dangerous precedent which could see young girls being medicated rather than actively engaging them in social situations.

This is something which I find truly worrying because, twenty years ago, I was that shy little girl. In my case, it wasn’t extreme because my parents encouraged me to socialise. However, I always felt very uncomfortable being made to play with other children I didn’t know. But does this mean I have a mental illness? Like most children, I grew out of my shyness. My job regularly requires me to approach complete strangers, put them at their ease, and engage them in conversation. Admittedly, I do feel a twinge of the old fears when meeting new people, but it is something I feel I have overcome and I consciously try to be more outgoing and social.

So, is shyness in children really a mental illness? There can be several factors which can contribute to a child being shy and the problem can manifest itself in many different forms. There are some cases where an introverted personality, or unwillingness to engage, can be a symptom of a mental problem, such as autism. But if a child is just shy, there are several ways they can be encouraged to overcome it which do not involve a trip to a psychiatrist and a drug prescription. If a girl is shy, will her confidence be helped by attaching the stigma of mental illness to her problem?

-Vhari Finch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.


  1. This is so interesting! I was (and still am in some ways) a shy girl and it would never have occured to me that it should be regarded as a mental illness... But then, how is mental illness properly defined?

    I agree though, I'm not certain that defining shyness as a mental ilness really helps a person overcome it!

  2. I saw this a little while back, and I was pretty offended by the notion of shyness being anything more than that. I feel that there are a lot of mental illnesses that go unrecognized and undiagnosed, and some of them may manifest as 'shyness.' Still, there are plenty of people who are just shy. While those of us who are shy should work to overcome our awkwardness in certain situations, it's not an uncommon thing, and because mental illness is still stigmatized (unfairly), further stigmatizing those who are shy will not help their issues.

    Let us shy people be shy if we want!