Literary descriptions of shyness can be traced back to the days of Hippocrates around 400 B.C. Charles Darwin wrote about the physiology and social context of blushing and shyness. The first mention of a psychiatric term, social phobia ("phobie des situations sociales"), was made in the early 1900s. Psychologists used the term "social neurosis" to describe extremely shy patients in the 1930s. After extensive work by Joseph Wolpe on systematic desensitization, research in phobias and their treatment grew. The idea that social phobia was a separate entity from other phobias came from the British psychiatrist, Isaac Marks in the 1960s. This was accepted by the American Psychiatric Association and was first officially included in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The definition of the phobia was revised in 1989 to allow comorbidity with avoidant personality disorder, and introduced generalized social phobia. Social phobia had been largely ignored prior to 1985. After a call to action by psychiatrist Michael Liebowitz and clinical psychologist Richard Heimberg, there was in increase in research and attention on the disorder. The DSM-IV gave social phobia the alternative name Social Anxiety Disorder. Research in to the psychology and sociology of everyday social anxiety continued. Cognitive Behavioral models and therapies were developed for social anxiety disorder. In the 1990s, paroxetine became the first prescription drug in the US approved to treat social anxiety disorder, with others following.

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