Promoting mental health, demystifying mental illness, countering stigma and discrimination


Anxiety Attacks: Persistent and unrealistic worries
Panic Disorders: Panic Attacks
Compulsions and Obsessions: Compulsions and Obsessions

What are Phobias?

Phobias are excessive, intensive or irrational fears that cause people to avoid certain objects, creatures, situations or activities. We all have some fears, however a fear becomes a phobia when it is unrealistic and it interferes with our daily lives.
All phobias are more common in women. Phobias vary from country to country. For example, in Northern Australia, crocodile phobia is common. Most phobias last for years and are lifelong unless treated.

Phobias fall into 4 main types:

  • Fear of specific creatures or situations such as being in lifts, aeroplanes, high places or storms
  • Fear of blood, injury or injections
  • Fear of social activities or situations (social phobia)
  • Fear of being away from home or safety and fear of places where you might have a panic attack (agoraphobia)

The main problem with phobias is that avoiding what you fear adversely affects your life and those closest to you. This is particularly so of social phobia and agoraphobia.

What causes Phobias?

Often there is no obvious cause for a phobia. Some phobias do run in families, especially blood, injury and injection phobia. Some specific phobias start after a specific event e.g. being attacked by a dog, having a phobia about dogs. But most do not. Most people with a spider phobia have not been bitten by a spider. Agoraphobia and social phobia are more common in people who are anxious or nervous by nature. Panic attacks are one of the main causes of agoraphobia. Untreated, they may ruin your life, as you tend to develop a 'siege' mentality, unable to attend gatherings of people.

How are Phobias Diagnosed?

Phobias are very obvious to the person concerned and usually to those close to them. Once a phobia becomes so invasive that it effects a person's day to day functioning, it is advisable to discuss the condition with a GP. The GP will, if appropriate, refer to more specialist services.

How are Phobias Treated?

Phobias generally can be treated through therapies such as counselling, psychoeducation (learning more about the condition and understanding the process for treatment), psychotherapy and support from those people close to the person with the phobia.

What happens to someone with a Phobia?

Most people, with appropriate treatment, will recover from the more extreme symptoms of phobias. For many people, it may require constant self-monitoring, facing one's fears daily or risking regressing.

The following websites provide information on Phobias:

A most useful NZ website with resource data on most mental illnesses, including Phobias
An international website with data on most mental illnesses

National Institute of Mental Health (US) Anxiety Disorders
Education Programme

NZ website with information about phobias
A site developed by Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services, Taranaki Health, working with youth, covering many mental health issues


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Taranaki Mental Health Sector