From Brunei: My mom has been refusing to go out of the house these recent weeks. She told us its because she’s afraid she’ll start laughing like a maniac in front of everyone because she’s having a severe mental problem, she said.

I notice it all started when our neighbor employed a new maid (they have 4). They’re working outside of the house everyday (they have an open kitchen) and are constantly talking loudly and laughing, in a really annoying manner. I myself am annoyed and am on the verge of telling them off sometimes. Since my mom is at home all the time, could this be the cause of her ‘problem’? And she did laughed hysterically sometimes, which made her feel better she said.

My mom is a 47 year old housewife and rarely went out of the house (once in 2 months) as she never really like to go out.

A: It sounds to me like your mother may have social phobia. She suffers from so much anxiety about being around other people, and perhaps being judged by them, that she confines herself to her home. In a way, your neighbors have brought the social world she is avoiding rght to her door. The addition of one more person and their constant presence outside may have tipped a precarious balance. She is so afraid of being inappropriate that she blocks her feelings until she can’t do it anymore. It’s no wonder to me that laughing hysterically made her feel better. She was finally letting it all out.

The solution is to help your mother understand that the things she is doing to be more comfortable – confining herself to home, avoiding others, bottling up her feelings — are in fact making things far worse for her. You can research ways to help someone with social phobia on the Internet. If your mother isn’t successful through her own efforts or with your help, it would probably be helpful to contact a mental health professional for assistance. The good news is that social phobia is highly treatable.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie