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?
Girl Museum Inc.