Florida father helps others who suffer from social anxiety

By Tara Evans - Executive Producer

BOCA RATON. Fla. - (WPLG) One in eight Americans has social anxiety disorder, but many of them don't even know it, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Donny Osmond, Ricky Williams, Barbara Streisand and Adele are just a few of the famous faces behind the little-known, and often misunderstood, disorder.

[WEB EXTRA: Anxiety and Depression Association of America | Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety ]

"A lot of people have it and some don't even realize it," said Jeffrey Kukes.

Kukes watched his youngest son Andy struggle with the condition for years starting in high school. At the age of 30, Andy took his own life.

"He did write us a note when he took his life, and he said he just couldn't stand the pain anymore," said Kukes.

"There's a really strong link between social anxiety and depression," said Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May.

Nearly 50 percent of people diagnosed with depression also have an anxiety disorder.

But Ehrenreich-May said unlike depression, people with social anxiety, by the very nature of the disease, rarely seek help. According to a 2007 ADAA survery, 36 percent of sufferers had symptoms for more than 10 years before getting treatment. 

She said drugs used for depression, as well as therapy to change negative thoughts and behavior, can ease social anxiety in up to 90 percent of patients.

"On the one hand, it's so wonderful that we have these treatments available that can help so many kids with social anxiety. Unfortunately, a lot of children don't receive those treatments," said Ehrenreich-May.

After Andy's death, Kukes and his wife started a foundation in his name. It was the first, and remains the only, national organization focused on social anxiety.

"People with social anxiety have to want to help themselves," said Kukes. "You have to go through the pain of treating yourself." 

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