Specialisation: SAD

Social Anxiety Disorder in the UAE and Gulf Countries: Diagnosis, Prevalence, Gender Differences, and Causes


In recent years, the issue of Social Anxiety Disorder has become pervasive across the planet. The Middle Eastern locations of the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf countries are not affected. A prime exemplar of such ailment is Social Anxiousness Disorder (SAD), an incapacitating status involving extreme timorousness towards social settings and intense self-consciousness. The objective of this treatise is to study the characteristics required for an individual to be diagnosed with SAD, its prevalence in the UAE & the neighboring Gulf states, disparities in its occurrence among individuals of different genders, and the potential causes that fuel such complaints.

Criteria for Diagnosis

To diagnose Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), mental health professionals reference the DSM-5 criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association. The criteria include; a persistent fear or anxiety about one or more social situations where an individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. Fear that they will act in a way that will be humiliating or embarrassing. Recognition that such kinds of fears are excessive or unreasonable. Avoidance of such social situations or enduring them with intense distress. Significant impairment due to symptoms lasting at least six months.

Persistent fear or anxiety about one or more social situations: Individuals with SAD experience an ongoing and excessive level of fear or anxiety when faced with certain social interactions, such as public speaking, attending parties, initiating conversations, and meeting new people.

Fear of possible scrutiny by others: Those with SAD are particularly concerned about being evaluated negatively by others in these social situations. They anticipate that their actions or behaviors will be judged harshly and scrutinized. Fear of humiliating or embarrassing oneself; t (Koyuncu et al., 2019). here is a specific apprehension related to doing something that may lead to embarrassment, making a mistake publicly, or blushing excessively in front of others – any action seen as causing humiliation becomes a focus of worry for individuals with SAD.

Recognizing the excessiveness/unreasonableness: The person suffering from SAD has insight into their fears being irrational and disproportionate compared to actual potential danger present in those situations/experiences but struggles to overcome them nonetheless due to pervasive anxious thoughts/cognitions.

Avoidance/Enduring distressing situation(s): In response to these fears and anxieties associated with social interaction possibilities (through real exposure/events) they will often go to great lengths to avoid the situations that trigger their anxiety. Alternatively, if they do face such situations, they may experience intense distress and discomfort.

Significant impairment lasting at least six months: For a diagnosis of SAD, these symptoms must persist for an extended period (at least six months) and significantly interfere with daily functioning or cause significant distress in various areas of life like work/school performance, relationships/interpersonal sphere.


In terms of prevalence, studies show significant variability across different regions and cultures within Gulf countries; however, SAD affects a considerable portion of individuals globally. Specific data regarding SAD’s prevalence exclusively within UAE and other Gulf countries is limited but suggests similar rates found worldwide which range from 7% to 13%. It is vital to acknowledge that cultural factors play a significant role in shaping how communities perceive disorders like SAD; therefore, there might still be underreporting due to stigmatization surrounding mental health issues in these regions (Curran et al., 2020). The prevalence of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) can vary across different regions and cultures within Gulf countries. However, globally SAD affects a significant portion of individuals. While specific data regarding SAD’s prevalence exclusively within UAE and other Gulf countries is limited, studies suggest similar rates found worldwide ranging from 7% to 13%.

Cultural factors play a crucial role in shaping how communities perceive disorders like SAD. The stigma surrounding mental health issues in these regions may lead to underreporting or reluctance by individuals to seek help for their symptoms. This cultural stigma can prevent proper recognition and acknowledgment of the disorder, resulting in lower reported rates (Curran et al., 2020). In many Gulf countries, mental health has historically been an area that receives less attention compared to physical health concerns due to various reasons such as societal norms or lack of awareness about psychological well-being.

However, there have been efforts made recently towards increasing awareness and understanding of mental health in the region. Greater campaigns promoting positive attitudes towards seeking support for mental health issues are gradually reducing stigmatization barriers (Curran et al., 2020). It is important for healthcare professionals working within UAE and other Gulf countries with diverse populations to also consider cultural nuances when diagnosing social anxiety disorder since symptom presentation might differ based on various sociocultural factors unique to each community.

Gender Differences

Research suggests that there is a higher prevalence of Social Anxiety Disorder among females compared to males, both internationally and within the Gulf countries. The reasons for this gender difference can be attributed to several factors; societal Expectations: Traditional gender roles and expectations in many cultures place more emphasis on women’s appearance, behavior, and social interactions (Fakhry & Mahmoud, 2020). These societal pressures may contribute to increased self-consciousness and fear of judgment in social situations.

Cultural Factors; in some cultures, within the UAE and other Gulf countries, societal norms prioritize preserving family honor or reputation. Women may feel heightened anxiety about being evaluated negatively by others due to cultural values surrounding modesty or propriety (Fakhry & Mahmoud, 2020). Biological Factors: Hormonal differences between males and females may also play a role in the gender differences observed. Research suggests that women tend to have higher levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can contribute to increased anxiety.


The exact causes of Social Anxiety Disorder are not fully understood and likely involve a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Genetic Factors; family studies have shown that individuals with a family history of anxiety disorders are more likely to develop SAD themselves (Ambusaidi et al., 2022). These findings suggest a possible genetic component contributing to vulnerability.

Environmental Factors; adverse childhood experiences or trauma can increase the risk of developing social anxiety symptoms later in life. Experiences like bullying or rejection during early development stages can shape an individual’s perception of social situations leading up to the development of SAD.

Cognitive Factors; cognitive theories suggest that distorted thinking patterns and negative self-beliefs play a crucial role in the maintenance of social anxiety symptoms (Ambusaidi et al., 2022). Individuals with SAD may have heightened attention to potential social threats and interpret ambiguous situations more negatively than others.

Neurobiological Factors; research has also explored brain abnormalities associated with Social Anxiety Disorder, including an overactivation of areas involved in threat detection and fear processing (Ambusaidi et al., 2022). Dysregulation in neurotransmitters such as serotonin or dopamine may contribute to these neural anomalies.


Social Anxiety Disorder is a significant mental health concern affecting individuals globally, including those living in Gulf countries like UAE. Understanding the criteria for diagnosis, prevalence rates, gender differences, and research on causes can provide valuable insights into this disorder’s complex nature. Addressing societal stigma associated with mental health issues through increased awareness campaigns can help encourage individuals suffering from SAD to seek appropriate support and treatment options available within their communities. Overall, Social Anxiety Disorder is a significant issue in the UAE and Gulf countries. It affects individuals’ daily functioning, their relationships with others, and their overall quality of life. Understanding its criteria for diagnosis, prevalence rates, gender differences in occurrence, and research on causes can help inform interventions and support systems for those struggling with this disorder. With increased awareness and access to proper mental health resources, we can work towards reducing the burden of social anxiety in these regions.


Ambusaidi, A., Al-Huseini, S., Alshaqsi, H., AlGhafri, M., Chan, M. F., Al-Sibani, N., … & Qoronfleh, M. W. (2022). The Prevalence and Sociodemographic Correlates of Social Anxiety Disorder: A Focused National Survey. Chronic Stress6, 24705470221081215.

Curran, E., Rosato, M., Ferry, F., & Leavey, G. (2020). Prevalence and factors associated with anxiety and depression in older adults: Gender differences in psychosocial indicators. Journal of Affective Disorders267, 114-122.

Fakhry, R., & Mahmoud, I. (2020). Anxiety-related disorders in adolescents in the United Arab Emirates: a population based cross-sectional study.

Koyuncu, A., İnce, E., Ertekin, E., & Tükel, R. (2019). Comorbidity in social anxiety disorder: diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. Drugs in context8.