Background. This study examined the relationship between potential childhood risk factors and social phobia in an epidemiological sample. Identifying risk factors such as childhood adversities can often uncover important clues as to the aetiology of a disorder. This information also enables health care providers to predict which individuals are most likely to develop the disorder.
Methods. Data came from the Mental Health Supplement to the Ontario Health Survey of a survey of 8116 Canadian respondents, aged 15–64. Social phobia was diagnosed using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI). Childhood risk factors were assessed by a series of standardized questions.
Results. A positive relationship was observed between social phobia and lack of close relationship with an adult, not being first born (in males only), marital conflict in the family of origin, parental history of mental disorder, moving more than three times as a child, juvenile justice and child welfare involvement, running away from home, childhood physical and sexual abuse, failing a grade, requirement of special education before age 9 and dropping out of high school. Many of these variables remained significant after controlling for phobias, major depressive disorder and alcohol abuse. The data also suggest that some childhood risk factors may interact with gender to influence the development of social phobia.
Conclusions. Although an association was detected between social phobia and childhood risk factors, naturalistic prospective studies are needed to clarify the aetiological importance of these and other potential risk factors for the disorder.