Updated: Aug 24, 2022
In the last year, mental health has been at the fore of many conversations, particularly with reference to the Covid-19 lockdown situation. But, like many things that have come up in 2020, there is still a long way to go. The stigma that surrounds phobias, and the challenges that those who suffer from them face from society, is creating another barrier to positive progress.
Back in 2005, Joyce Davidson published an article in the journal of Social Science and Medicine all about the stigmatisation of phobias in society. Drawing on interviews with individuals from the United Kingdom National Phobics Society, she explored the implications of the contested nature of specific phobias, their perception by society and the experiences of those who suffer from them. “Phobias are stigmatised and subjected to widespread judgmental attitudes across society, sometimes even those in medical professions.” she writes. This results in people shying away from situations where they have to explain their fears, to avoid the judgment of strangers, friends and even family. While Davidson put forward these ideas 15 years ago, they are still very much in play today.
While it may sound somewhat ambiguous, the stigma around phobias is commonplace, and it isn’t hard to find when we really put our mind to it. Taking a flight with someone who suffers from aerophobia, or know someone that has, and heard that “they will be there to help”? That help is essentially belittling the person who will have mental and physical challenges throughout the experience, certainly ones which cannot be helped by someone who has no training. “Picture the audience sitting in their underwear!” isn’t a supportive solution to someone with a fear of public speaking. Those who suffer from phobias are subjected to silly quick fix advice from individuals. Individuals who simply don’t have the comprehension of the phobia, the effects, the emotions and the stigma. It is worth remembering that such advice is creating a victim in a situation that simply doesn’t need one. Best steer clear of such dialogue, it’ll be much more helpful to say less.
There is a school of thought that such stigma is rooted in a number of misconceptions and myths surrounding phobias and mental health. Here are three examples:
1. If you have a phobia, you must be crazy.
For one, the term crazy is one which is thrown around in conversation to casually describe mental health challenges. It casts a negative light across phobias and suggests they are incurable. This is an excellent example of how words are powerful and can be abused very easily.
2. Phobias are overrated fears.
A phobia is excessive and persistent and can take a significant time to work through. Getting over and fear by simply “dealing with it” is not the pathway for someone with a debilitating phobia.
3. Phobias are deep-rooted and cannot be overcome.
There are those who believe justify a phobia by saying “that’s just the way he/she is.” That isn’t true, the phobia is not the person and phobias can be treated. Those who suffer from them do not need to cut down in this way.
With the fairly recent push for mental health to be regarded with the same importance and urgency as physical health, we can only hope that there will be progress in this direction for phobias and social anxiety. There can be no doubt that the benefit of moving forward will help those with phobias beyond the lack of stigma but also for the sense of empowerment they will gain from the support that can be offered to them from society.
oVRcome are developing a pathway for those who suffer from phobias to manage and develop coping strategies with a view to conquer their fears. If you want to learn about treatment for phobias, check out this article on virtual reality and exposure therapy for more information.