Understanding phobias and their effect on mental health

Getting scared or having a fear of danger, such as an exposure to fire or violence, is common. However, sometimes, these fears can be unreasonable in some people, which can not only hamper their daily activity and lifestyle but also make them unfit for a healthy lifestyle. Such fears are known as “phobias”.

With nearly 19 million Americans possessing specific phobias, as per a recent report by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), it is important to educate people about the mental ailment and help them lead a normal life. However, very few people realize its disabling effect because phobias are not experienced until someone is exposed to certain kinds of objects or situation.

Causes of phobia

Like any other mental health disorder, there are multiple factors causing a phobia. Phobia does not necessarily occur in childhood. A person can acquire a phobia at any stage of life.  Some of the risk factors for specific phobias are:

  • Bad experience or trauma: In many people, a bad experience tends to be so shocking that it becomes a trauma. For example, when a person who is skeptical of flying experiences a turbulence on a plane, especially at a young age, he or she may develop a phobia of planes or fly again post the incident.
  • Environmental factors: Distressing events, such as fire or nearly drowning, can trigger phobia. Exposure to enclosed spaces or extreme tall buildings can also lead to phobic attacks.
  • Genetic factors: Although no phobia has been recorded as occurring due to genetic predisposition, studies have shown cases where the child inherited the phobia or the tendency from one of the parents. It has been observed that some children are born to be more anxious than the others.
  • Chronic stress or depression: A long-term stressful situation can induce certain kind of fear inside the mind, due to failure in coping up with the situation. This can further make the person over anxious or panicky with the fear of facing such a situation again.

Types of phobia

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has categorized phobias into various types, some of which are:

  • Agoraphobia: It is the type of phobia where a person is afraid of getting stuck into specific space or situation, such as larger crowd and gathering, or getting trapped outside their house.
  • Social phobia: Commonly known as social anxiety disorder, people with this disorder tend to avoid social gathering completely and keep them isolated from any companionship or large group. For such people, even answering a telephone call can cause panic attack.
  • Specific phobias: These phobias pertain to fears regarding certain specific things such as fear of an object or an animal. However, to qualify as a phobia, it is important for a fear to be strong enough to interfere with the daily life and routine such as claustrophobia (fear of enclosed or tight spaces).

Treating phobia

While many people get habitual of living with a phobia, it is very important to treat this mental health disorder. Phobia is like any other mental health illness that needs proper cure and treatment.

In case of therapeutic techniques, use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common. The technique primarily involves exposing the person to the source of fear (in a controlled setting) to identify the bothering aspect such as the changing negative thoughts, dysfunctional beliefs, and negative reactions. However, even medications can also help mitigate the disabling symptoms of the disease.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any phobia, it is important to consult a mental health professional and seek help. Call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline at 855-653-8178 to know more about mental health illnesses and their effective treatments. Our representative will help you know about various mental health programs and mental health centers across America. You can also chat with our professionals who can recommend one of the best mental health facilities in the U.S.