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Phobias and Their Impact on Mental Illness

Anne is a freelancer with a passion for writing and helping others by writing about important topics and issues.

Specific Fears

Phobias are specific fears that a person may have to an object, animal, situation, or event. They can often make living difficult if the phobia is extreme.

Phobias are specific fears that a person may have to an object, animal, situation, or event. They can often make living difficult if the phobia is extreme.

Introduction

The word “phobia” is derived from the Greek word “Phobos”, which means fear or panic. In the modern world, we use this term to describe a phenomenon that is often a co-occurring symptom of a larger mental health disorder. Simply put, having a phobia means you have a specific fear of a person, place, object, situation, or thing. Many people have phobias, and it is completely normal to have specific fears. However, when a phobia continues to make life difficult and unmanageable for the person with a phobia, it can become an issue and detrimental to the mental health of the person. In the most recent National Comorbidity Survey, the National Institute of Mental Health states that "9.1% of U.S. adults have had specific phobia in the past year" and "12.5% of U.S. adults will experience specific phobia at some time in their lives" ("Specific Phobia"). These statistics emphasize the commonality of the condition, as well as the possibility that mental illness is impacted greatly by the experience of phobias.

Types of Phobias

There are many different types of specific phobias relating to a wide range of fears. Many phobia names have Greek root derivatives, signifying meaning by knowing what the roots of the word mean. For instance, arachnophobia is a fear of spiders. We know this because the root “Arachne” means spider and “phobia” means fear. Putting those two concepts together, you have a specific phobia title. Some of the most common phobias include agoraphobia, acrophobia, aichmophobia, and hemophobia. The following list below defines these common phobias and their impact in relation to potential mental health issues.

Agoraphobia: Greek root “agora” meaning “to gather”, this phobia describes people who are fearful of crowds, open spaces, as well as a general fear of leaving their homes or places that give them a sense of security and safety. Persons with agoraphobia typically may remain reclusive much of the time and afraid to interact outside the home. They tend to “hunker down” or remain in places in which they don’t feel a sense of immediate danger. This can make life difficult for those with this phobia, because it can interfere with their ability to work, socialize, and build positive relationships.

Acrophobia: The root “acro” refers to the concept of being the highest or topmost point. People with acrophobia have a fear of heights. Most people with this phobia might be fearful of riding roller coasters, going up on higher floors of tall buildings, and standing on balconies or other structures from elevated heights. Persons with acrophobia might be so fearful of heights that they avoid certain situations in their lives, making it more difficult for them to function in their everyday lives. For instance, they might avoid working a job that is on the higher floor of a building. As such, this can make the possibilities of employment opportunities more limited for persons with a fear of heights, and the phobia may also impact other aspects of their professional and personal lives.

Aichmophobia: The Greek root “aichmo” simply means “point” or “spear point”. Persons with aichmophobia are fearful of sharp objects, particularly needles. Fear of needles is one of the most common phobias, and those with this fear will actively avoid situations in which they might be asked to have an injection or needle inserted into the skin. They might avoid tattoos, getting vaccines, and getting important shot injections during a health crisis. This can make it extremely difficult for persons with this fear to get proper healthcare treatment, which could have a large impact on their overall health. Phobias that relate to certain health situations are typically referred to as “blood-injection-injury” type of phobias.

Hemophobia: Another type of blood-injection-injury phobia, hemophobia is the fear of blood. As suggested, the root “hemo” means blood. Persons with this phobia typically have extreme reactions to the sight of blood which could include fainting, vomiting, or severe panic reactions. Persons with hemophobia will likely avoid any situations in which they feel they might see blood, including in movies, in hospital or medical settings, and in their everyday lives. This can make things very difficult, especially if they themselves become injured, because they will be dealing with an injury on top of an initial panic at the sight of blood. Sometimes we refer to persons with an aversion to blood as “squeamish”, but the term hemophobia is a bit more complex than that assumption. If a person has hemophobia, they may go out of their way to avoid situations that may be necessary for their overall health, such as having a blood test done at the lab. Therefore, this phobia could impact not only the mental health of the individual, but also the physical health of the person.

Ophidiophobia: The prefix “ophidio” comes from the Greek word “ophis”, which means snake. This is one of the most common phobias, and many find that a large percentage of the population has a fear or phobia of snakes. Ophidiophobia is more unique than other phobias in that there is a cultural aspect to the phobia that may impact the prevalence of this phobia in our world. The age-old parable about Adam and Eve in the Christian bible describes how Eve was tempted by the snake. Snakes symbolize temptation and evil in many cultures, and therefore more people are likely to have a more negative and fearful reaction to snakes. While others might be able to understand scary animals such as snakes as a necessary part of the larger ecosystem, a person with ophidiophobia cannot get past the extreme fear and panic that they feel when they see a snake. People will avoid any situations in which they may come across a snake, and this may include a tendency to avoid forests and natural environments as well. This can limit where the person goes, who they interact with, and what they do in their lives, and if extreme enough, can have a detrimental impact on their mental health.

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Fear of the Outside World

Persons with agoraphobia are afraid of large groups of people as well as going outside of their own comfortable spaces, such as their homes. This can make their daily lives severely impacted.

Persons with agoraphobia are afraid of large groups of people as well as going outside of their own comfortable spaces, such as their homes. This can make their daily lives severely impacted.

Phobias and Mental Illness

While this list does not include every type of phobia, it has listed some of the most common ones, focusing on the potential impacts these phobias may have on the everyday lives of the people that have them. As stated previously, it is normal and natural for people to have phobias. Just because you have a phobia does not mean that you have a mental illness. Fear is a common human reaction that our species would not be able to live without, and it is our most primal instinct to avoid dangerous situations. Therefore, we need fear, and fear can be a good thing. However, phobias become a part of mental illness when they are unfounded, exaggerated, or unrealistic. Additionally, if a person is making serious changes to their lives in order to avoid a phobia of any kind, this likely may be a sign of an underlying mental health condition. Those with extreme phobias may have a co-occuring mental disorder that is impacting how exaggerated or delusional their phobias or efforts to avoid the phobia may seem. Common co-occurring disorders may include anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Animal Phobias

Fear of snakes and other types of animals are very common phobias. Cultural beliefs and associations with different types of animals tend to have a large impact on animal phobias.

Fear of snakes and other types of animals are very common phobias. Cultural beliefs and associations with different types of animals tend to have a large impact on animal phobias.

Awareness

In the mental health field especially, it is so important for caregivers and medical professionals to be able to distinguish the difference between a phobia or fear that is within the normal range of human reaction and one that is the result of a co-occuring mental health disorder. In order to help a person cope with their phobias in a safe environment, they may be evaluated by a psychiatrist and then recommended a specific pattern of treatment with the overall goal of helping that person achieve personal gains and goals in their lives. For example, someone with agoraphobia may work closely with a psychiatrist and therapist to help them get out of their house and back into the real world. Someone with a fear of heights might work with a therapist to overcome this fear by going to places that might make them fearful, such as standing on a balcony on the second floor of a building. This type of therapy is called “exposure therapy”, and with the assistance of a trained medical professional, persons with phobias can overcome their fears and start to live more productive, healthy lives. More awareness about phobias and treatments for phobias would be of absolute benefit to our society in these modern times, especially given the fact that advanced technology has opened up a whole new world of phobias that people might deal with. If you know someone that has a phobia and you see that it is beginning to impact major areas of their life, reach out to them and be a supportive friend. Let them know they are not alone and that they can reach out to a professional for help. You might be the friend that convinces them to take the initiative and get the help they need.

Sources:

Cherry, Kendra. “The Most Common Phobias from A to Z.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 4 Aug. 2022, https://www.verywellmind.com/list-of-phobias-2795453.

“Specific Phobia.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobia.



This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Anne Marie Carr

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