A phobia, (from Greek φόβος "fear"), is an abnormal, persistent fear of situations, objects, activities, or persons. The main symptom of this disorder is the excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject. more...
The term phobia is also used in a non-medical sense for aversions of all sorts. A number of neologisms have appeared with the suffix -phobia, which are not phobias in a clinical sense, but rather describe a negative attitude towards something. See Non-clinical uses of the term below.
Phobias (in the clinical meaning of the term) are the most common form of anxiety disorders. An American study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that between 5.1% and 21.5% of Americans suffer from phobias. Broken down by age and gender, the study found that phobias were the most common mental illness among women in all age groups and the second most common illness among men older than 25.
The opposite of the suffix -phobia is -philia or -philie (meaning "love of").
Understanding and classifying phobias
Most psychologists and psychiatrists divide phobias into three categories:
- Social phobias - fears involving other people or social situations such as performance anxiety or fears of embarrassment by scrutiny of others, eg. eating in public.
- Specific phobias - fear of a single specific panic trigger such as spiders, dogs, elevators, flying, catching a specific illness, etc.
- Agoraphobia - a generalized fear of leaving your home or a small familiar 'safe' area, and of the inevitable panic attacks that will follow. Agoraphobia is the only phobia regularly treated as a medical condition.
Many specific phobias, such as fear of dogs, heights, spider bites, and so forth, are extensions of fears that a lot of people have. People with these phobias specifically avoid the thing they fear.
Many specific phobias can be traced back to a specific triggering event, usually a traumatic experience at an early age. Social phobias and agoraphobia have more complex causes that are not entirely known at this time. It is believed that heredity, genetics and brain-chemistry combine with life-experiences to play a major role in the development of anxiety disorders and phobias.
Phobias vary in severity among individuals. Some individuals can simply avoid the subject of their fear and suffer only relatively mild anxiety over that fear. Others suffer fully-fledged panic attacks with all the associated disabling symptoms. Most individuals understand that they are suffering from an irrational fear, but are powerless to override their initial panic reaction.
It is possible for an individual to develop a phobia over virtually anything. The name of a phobia generally contains a Greek word for what the patient fears plus the suffix -phobia. Creating these terms is something of a word game. Few of these terms are found in medical literature.
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