One of the main diagnoses that psychologists treat is anxiety; anxiety is defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease” that typically involves feeling a sense of uncertainty about the outcome of a situation . It is common for people to feel nervous or worried about many situations or experiences in their life, but when worry and fear become a state that impacts a person’s overall functioning, it becomes something that should be addressed by a medical professional. There are many different kinds of anxiety diagnoses, but one in particular that gets a lot of attention due to its severity is the diagnosis of specific phobias.
Specific phobias are described by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) as an excessive and irrational fear of a specified object or situation. The DSM-5 categorizes specific phobias into 5 categories:
- Animal Types (dogs, snakes, spiders, etc.)
- Natural Environment Types (thunder storms, floods, earthquakes, etc.)
- Blood-Injection-Injury Types (seeing blood, getting medical treatment involving blood, witnessing medical procedures, etc.)
- Situational Types (elevators, airplanes, small spaces, etc.)
- Other Types (fears of contracting an illness, fear of choking, etc.)
There are many specific phobia diagnoses that are well researched and found to be credible due to their prevalence and patients meeting the criteria of
- Having a persistent, irrational fear.
- Exposure to the feared item/situation leads to an extreme anxiety response (panic attack, screaming, freezing, etc.).
- Person recognizes that the fear is irrational.
- A person avoids the feared stimuli.
- The avoidance of this fear impacts a person’s daily life and overall functioning.
- Fear lasts more than 6 months.
- These fears do not directly come from another mental health diagnosis.
While there are many credible and crippling specific phobias, because of their irrational and intriguing nature, people have come up with a lot of outlandish and non-credible specific phobias in an effort to entertain the public. One such non-credible specific phobia is Anatidaephobia, or the irrational fear that a person is being watched by a duck. While this sounds like something that someone could be scared of, this is actually a fictional phobia that was made up for a cartoon comic by Gary Larson in his Far Side Cartoons. It then picked up interest when a writer, Tammy Duffey wrote a satirical article regarding the symptoms and treatment of Anatidaephobia where it was accompanied with an add for Aflac, an insurance company that has a duck “watching over” its customers. This humorous article lead the internet world to question this phobia’s accuracy and led to a lot of debates about it’s origin, however, it is indeed a fake phobia. Anatidaephobia has now become a satirical phobia that is joked about it videos and threads in social media networks, but has no scientific or medical support for being an actual mental health disorder.
This article and the subsequent internet discussions were meant to suggest that basically anything could be a phobia, and while this makes light of a disorder to provide some laughs and humor, real specific phobias are an incredibly serious medical diagnosis that require intense treatment targeting their fears so they can live their lives comfortably without limiting themselves, avoiding everyday and otherwise enjoyable experiences, and/or experiencing symptoms of panic and intense fear. Specific phobias are generally treated with psychotherapy designed to gradually expose people to the stimulus that they are afraid of to help them overcome the irrational fear and rewire their brain to decrease the anxious responses so they can tolerate the stimulus.
Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events