is a phobia?
phobia is a disabling and irrational fear of something that really poses little
or no actual danger for most people. “Phobia”
itself is not a mental health diagnosis.
Instead, there are phobias like agoraphobia (fear of being in situations
or places where escape might be difficult or help not available); social phobia,
also called social anxiety disorder (fear of social or performance situations
in which embarrassment may occur); and specific phobias (fears of things such
as an animal (e.g., snakes, spiders), heights, storms, airplanes,
blood-injection-injury, choking.) To be
diagnosable the phobia must interfere significantly with an individual’s daily
functioning, work/school, or social life.
things put a person at higher risk of experiencing a phobia?
Social phobia affects about 15 million American adults.
Women and men are equally likely to develop the disorder, which usually begins
in childhood or early adolescence. There
is some evidence that genetic factors are involved. Phobias seem to occur
more frequently among individuals with parent(s) who suffer(ed) from a type of
phobia. Experiencing a traumatic event,
such as being trapped in an elevator or attacked by an animal, may trigger the
development of a phobia.
phobias be treated? How?
Medications are not long-term or curative treatments for phobias. Psychiatrists,
psychologists, social workers and other mental health professionals all agree
that the primary treatment for specific phobias is behavioral therapy.
is evidence that exposure-based therapy (exposure of the individual to the
feared object or context without any danger, in order to overcome their anxiety), by
itself, is more effective than most medication alone or medication along with
Another common treatment is called systematic
desensitization. This treatment has many overlaps with traditional exposure
therapy, although it also focuses on using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing
and progressive muscle relaxation. These skills can be useful in helping a
person cope with the anxiety and stress of the therapeutic process.
does a phobia progress?
typically begin in the mid-teen years, but even in early childhood. Phobias may arise abruptly after a stressful
or embarrassing situation, or the onset may be slow. The course of the illness is continuous and
may be lifelong, although it may worsen during stressful times and may improve
with adulthood. Likewise, severity may
wax and wane with life stressors and demands.
people with phobias get better?
In spite of the fact
that phobias are continuous and may be lifelong, a significant percentage
of people with this illness will experience a decrease in the severity of their
symptoms over time, and up to 20 percent will experience full recovery. For people seeking treatment, the majority
will experience a significant decrease in their symptoms. A sizable percentage
of people who engage in proper treatment will experience a near complete
resolution of their symptoms.
Family and friends can
be most helpful in encouraging their loved one to seek treatment for this
troubling illness. With proper treatment and the support of their loved ones,
most people with specific phobias can expect to live meaningful and productive
lives and see a significant decrease in the severity of their symptoms.
· If you were in physical pain, you’d see a doctor to find out what’s wrong. Your mental health is just as important. Learn more here about how to check yourself, from getting a mental health screening to visiting a counseling center. You can use the anonymous Self Evaluator to learn if a treatable mental health problem, including social anxiety disorder (social phobia), could be affecting you or a friend. Be proactive about your mental health: it’s the first step to feeling better. http://www.ulifeline.org/check_yourself
· National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&Template=/ContentManagement/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=150730
· Mental Health America. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/phobias
· Social Phobia Inventory. Use this brief 17-question online automated quiz to help you determine if you may need to see a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment of a social phobia (public speaking, going to parties, etc.), or for tracking your phobia on a regular basis: http://psychology-tools.com/spin/