Specific Phobias

DSM-V criteria for specific phobias

The DSM-V defines specific phobia as a marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation (such as flying, heights, animals, seeing blood or receiving an injection).

The phobic object or situation almost always induces immediate fear or anxiety.

The phobic object or situation is actively avoided or tolerated with intense fear or anxiety.

The fear or anxiety is not in proportion to the actual danger posed by it and to the sociocultural context.

The fear or anxiety is persistent and typically lasts for 6 months or more.

A diagnosis of specific phobia is warranted if:

  • clinically significant impairment of social, work or other important areas of function is caused by the fear, anxiety or avoidance of the phobic object or situation; and
  • the disturbance is not better explained by another mental disorder.


Prevalence of Specific Phobia

Specific phobias are quite common. The National Comorbidity Survey-Replication indicated a lifetime prevalence rate of about 12 percent. Gender ratios vary widely depending upon the type of specific phobia, but phobias are typically more common in women than men. For example, around 90 to 95 percent of people with animal phobias are women, but for other phobias like blood-injection-injury phobia (and fear and disgust at the sight of blood or injury), the ratio is less than 2:1.

The age of onset also varies according to the type of specific phobias. Animal, dental and blood-injury phobias tend to begin in childhood, whilst claustrophobia begins more commonly in adolescence or adulthood.


Comorbidities with specific phobias

Over 75 percent of people with one specific phobia have at least one other specific fear that is excessive.