9 Nov 2017

Social anxiety: advice from Doctor Know

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:31 pm on 9 November 2017

Many young people struggle with social anxiety and psychologist Gwendoline Smith has set up a Tumblr blog and created the alter ego Doctor Know to help.

She's now written a book based on the questions teens posed on her hugely popular site – knowing.

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Photo: supplied

At first, Smith didn't think much of the term 'social anxiety'.

"When I first heard it I thought 'Oh, no. Not psychiatry coming up with another diagnosis for being shy. But it's so not that."

The essence is a fear of being negatively judged by other people, not a fear of social occasions or socialising.

It often affects people who have a genetic predisposition for anxiety, blossoming in puberty when your place in the peer group takes on huge importance.

But unlike most other afflictions of puberty, people with social anxiety don't grow out of it.

Although social anxiety is aggravated by the environment, slamming social media as the primary cause is too simplistic, smith says.

"There's a lot of kids out there on social media that don't have this particular type of anxiety so it's more complex than that."

She describes Tumblr as, in part, a "social media site for the young and the anxious" which, unlike other sites, offers anonymity.

She set up her own page at the suggestion of her friend the poet Lang Leav, who was being contacted on Tumblr by girls talking about cutting and self-harm.

Leav felt out of her depth and suggested Smith would be able to do some good through via the platform.

Soon after she launched the Doctor Know page, it went "huge".

"I must have spiked somewhere. Next thing I'm being interviewed by The Guardian, and next thing in an hour, I've got 11,000 questions."

Though the Tumblr blog Smith has learnt the language of today's youth.

"The number of times I'm two-screening it because I'm thinking 'What? Assigned female at birth?' To someone as old as me I'm thinking you're just born a chick. But it's much more complex than that."

Her Tumblr blog was a "big giant research project" that informed knowing, whose title – if it isn't immediately clear – comes from the name of her alter ego.

knowing will be helpful for anyone with social anxiety, she says, but its illustrations are geared to youth.

Where to get help:

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 anytime to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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