Definition: Defining the Meaning of Phobia
In clinical psychology, a phobia is defined as a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational. In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely, the sufferer will endure the situation or object with marked distress and significant interference in social or occupational activities.
What is a Phobia
A phobia can be classified as a disability in that it can effect a persons psychological being and ability to perform certain tasks. A phobia is an irrational, intense, persistent fear of certain situations, activities, things, or persons.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 8.7% of people, or about 19.2 million American adults, suffer from one or more specific phobias.
The main symptom of this disorder is the excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject. When the fear is beyond one's control, or if the fear is interfering with daily life, then a diagnosis under one of the anxiety disorders can be made.
It is generally accepted that phobias arise from a combination of external events and internal predispositions.
Phobias are more often than not linked to the amygdala, an area of the brain located behind the pituitary gland in the limbic system. The amygdala secretes hormones that control fear and aggression, and aids in the interpretation of this emotion in the facial expressions of others.
Phobia's in Children - Fears and Childhood Phobia's
Fears are common and normal in childhood, however, for some children and teenagers, their fears can become very severe over time, and even develop into a phobia. In children and adolescents, the identified fear must last at least six months to be considered a phobia rather than a transient fear.
Childhood phobias can make it difficult for your child to go to school, be around other kids, or get involved in combined activities, such as school camping trips and day camps etc.
Phobias can be very hard on children and teenagers, especially when their friends and/or family don't understand why the child is getting upset over something that is nothing to them. An adult or teenager can often realize their fear is unreasonable or excessive, whereas a younger child might not be aware of this.
A child psychiatrist, psychologist or other qualified health or mental health professional usually diagnoses anxiety disorders in children or adolescents following a comprehensive medical and psychiatric evaluation. Parents who note signs of severe anxiety in their child or teen should help by seeking an evaluation and treatment early. Early treatment can prevent future problems.
Most psychologists and psychiatrists classify most phobias into three categories:
a) Social phobia - Also known as social anxiety disorder - fears involving other people or social situations such as performance anxiety or fears of embarrassment by scrutiny of others, such as eating in public.
b) Specific phobias - Fear of a single specific panic trigger such as spiders, snakes, dogs, elevators, water, flying, catching a specific illness, etc.
c) Agoraphobia - A generalized fear of leaving home or a small familiar 'safe' area, and of possible panic attacks that might follow.
View our list of common phobias
Quick Facts: Phobia
Most phobias are classified into two categories;
- Agoraphobia: a generalized fear of leaving home or a small familiar 'safe' area, and of possible panic attacks that might follow. It may also be caused by various specific phobias such as fear of open spaces, social embarrassment (social agoraphobia), fear of contamination (fear of germs, possibly complicated by obsessive-compulsive disorder) or PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) related to a trauma that occurred out of doors.
- Specific phobias: Fear of particular objects or social situations that immediately results in anxiety and can sometimes lead to panic attacks. Specific phobia may be further subdivided into five categories: animal type, natural environment type, situational type, blood-injection-injury type, and other.
Phobias are a common form of anxiety disorders and distributions are heterogeneous by age and gender.
- Women are nearly four times as likely as men to have a fear of animals (12.1 percent in women and 3.3 percent in men)
- Social phobias are more common in girls than in boys, while situational phobia occurs in 17.4 percent of women and 8.5 percent of men.
- Between 4 percent and 10 percent of all children experience specific phobias during their lives, and social phobias occur in one percent to three percent of children and adolescents.
- An American study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that between 8.7 percent and 18.1 percent of Americans suffer from phobias, making it the most common mental illness among women in all age groups and the second most common illness among men older than 25.