Phobias and panic disorder are anxiety disorders, which are among the most common of mental health problems. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 10 people are affected by anxiety disorders. These conditions are medical disorders, but they are often mistaken for weakness or self-indulgence. Because of this common mistake and because of the stigma associated with mental illness, people with anxiety disorders are often misunderstood and neglected, by society and sometimes by health care professionals.
Treatment exists to help people with phobias and panic disorder, and research into new therapies and techniques continues. By learning more about these conditions, you can help remove the social stigma that prevents so many people from seeking help to cope with their illness.
Specific phobias, social phobia
There are two categories of phobia: specific phobia and social phobia. Studies have shown that people with social phobia often experience in their developmental years a history of family break-up, shyness, infrequent dating and parental discouragement of socializing.
Specific Phobia - Specific phobias are believed to result from a combination of biological factors and life events. Some examples of specific phobias are fear of flying, heights, animals and blood. People with this type of phobia are consumed by inappropriate and involuntary fears. Their need to avoid those objects or situations which provoke high anxiety is so strong that they are unable to lead a normal life.
Social Phobia - A person with social phobia is excessively fearful of social or performance situations. They feel extreme anxiety about the possibility of being judged by others or behaving in ways which might cause embarrassment. They may have fears about being unable to continue talking in public, choking on food when eating in front of others or being unable to urinate in a public lavatory. This can lead to attacks which may involve heart palpitations, shortness of breath and profuse sweating. They will usually go to great lengths to avoid feared situations.
It is estimated that some 2 million Canadians suffer from panic disorder. Of those who have sought treatment for their symptoms, approximately two-thirds are women. Panic disorder typically begins in a person's late teen years, or early 2Os, but children are known to suffer from the disorder. Research is discovering more information about genetic causes of panic disorder. Studies have also shown that the occurrence or anticipation of stressful life events, anxiety in childhood, over-protective parental behaviour and substance abuse are common among people with panic disorder.
Agoraphobia frequently accompanies panic disorder. This is the fear of being in places or situations which would be difficult to escape from, or in which it would be difficult to find help, should a person suffer a panic attack.
Panic Disorder without Agoraphobia -Panic attacks are terrifying episodes during which the person is convinced they are about to die or collapse. Without warning, an individual is suddenly overwhelmed by emotional and physical sensations that signal imminent death.