Phobias: A Mental Health Perspective

Joel Eisenberg

According to Johns Hopkins University, an estimated 19 million U.S. citizens, or 12.5% of the population, suffer from phobias. Are we closer to a general cure for what medical professionals have defined as “irrational fears?”

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ArachnophobiaVadim Bogulov, Unsplash

Author’s Note

Though I am a former mental health professional with training in Psychology, and I will share some personal experience, I am not a doctor and I will offer no medical advice or diagnosis herein. Please contact a currently practicing medical or mental health professional for any potential issue related to this article that requires attention. Sources for this article include Johns Hopkins Medicine, MentalHealth.gov, American Psychiatric Association (APA), The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (hhs.gov), and Wikipedia.org.

Introduction

On January 20, 2021, NewsBreak published my article, “A Medical Treatment For Phobias Has Been Re-Discovered,” in which I shared a related personal issue: I have suffered from a lifelong phobia of elevators.

As excerpted from the article: The difference is, I can manage that fear today. As with most phobias, for the rest of you none of this may make sense. But, for those of you struggling with other phobias, however silly or benign you believe they may seem to some, you understand the struggle is real.

My wife, for example, is an ophidiophobe, meaning she suffers from an overwhelming fear of snakes.

For myself, I love snakes, though I understand the potential for phobia-related panic. Although today my own phobia is manageable, after many years of work, I still wonder if I would panic if I was stuck, alone, in an elevator.

The most misunderstood aspect of phobias is, while they are largely — and logically — looked upon as irrational fears by many in the medical community, the knowledge of such does not diminish the very real suffering of the victim.

Of equal importance, it should be noted that mental health professionals largely look upon phobias as a de facto anxiety disorder.

According to MentalHealth.gov: A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. There are many specific phobias. Acrophobia is a fear of heights. You may be able to ski the world's tallest mountains but be unable to go above the 5th floor of an office building. Agoraphobia is a fear of public places, and claustrophobia is a fear of closed-in places. If you become anxious and extremely self-conscious in everyday social situations, you could have a social phobia. Other common phobias involve tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, animals and blood.

This explanation resonates with many who have commented upon it, including myself. Elevators have historically triggered a claustrophobic response in me — a fear of closed or tight spaces — yet I love flying in planes and helicopters, and traveling in subways.

Hence the “irrational” aspect of the anxiety disorder is again addressed.

Let us explore further.

The Nature of Phobias and Progression to a Cure

For an overview of anxiety disorders, my NewsBreak piece on the matter, “The Lost Mental Illness: Understanding and Supporting a Loved One With Anxiety Disorder,” states: For those unaware, the regularly updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a diagnostic tool published and released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and is the standard reference in the field. According to the DSM-5 (fifth edition) Disorder Class, anxiety disorders are characterized by the following: A) Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least six months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance).B) The person finds it difficult to control the worry. C) The anxiety and worry are associated with three or more listed symptoms.

For myself, I’ve learned in my years of trying to cure what’s haunted me that my once-crippling phobia, as yours, can be managed. To do so requires an ongoing challenge: I stop fighting the fear and allow it to pass, or I do not.

Such was advice given by the late Australian doctor and author Claire Weekes, who I had written about here and is now receiving plaudits stateside for her work in phobia management, and is even credited by some doctors as discovering a legitimate cure via her management (“stop fighting and allow it to pass”) philosophy. Save for maybe invasive and very risky electroshock therapy, there is no easy option to “curing” a phobia, but Dr. Weekes had her pulse on the larger issue. So acclaimed were her findings that she was awarded an MBE — Most Excellent Order of the British Empire —a British order of chivalry rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organizations, and public service outside civil service, according to Wikipedia.

For a well-attributed overview of Dr. Weekes and her work, see Wikipedia entry here.

Note though, one should still see their own doctor is suffering continues.

Conclusion

Per Johns Hopkins Medicine, an estimated 19 million U.S. citizens suffer from phobias, as mentioned in this article’s subtitle.

Though phobias are generally considered harmless, undue suffering may exacerbate or even cause legitimate medical issues involving the heart and other organs, and can be deleterious to one’s long-term mental health.

If you suffer from uncontrolled phobias, please contact your doctor. You may likewise want to read American Psychiatric Association (APA) comments and listed resources on anxiety disorder, of which there are several types, as listed on the federal government’s U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website, for perspective.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

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