How Many People Suffer From Phobias?

A Look at Phobia Rates in the United States

Phobias are a form of anxiety disorder.
Phobias are a form of anxiety disorder. Peopleimages/Getty Images

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 10% of people in the United States suffer from phobias. And, in fact, phobias are the most common mental disorder in the U.S., especially among women who are affected more than men. So whether you're terrified of spiders, heights, or speaking in public, you're not alone.

Phobias fall into a class of mental disorders known as anxiety disorders.

This class also includes generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Researchers are uncertain exactly what causes phobias. However, genetics, culture and life events do play a role. Whatever the cause, phobias are treatable and can often be overcome with cognitive and behavioral therapy.

Symptoms of Phobias

Phobic symptoms can occur through exposure to the fear object or situation, or sometimes merely by thinking about the feared object. These include:

  • Dizziness, trembling and increased heart rate
  • Breathlessness
  • Nausea
  • A sense of unreality
  • Fear of dying
  • Preoccupation with the fear object

In some cases, these symptoms can escalate into a full-scale anxiety attack.

How Common Are Common Phobias?

What do people fear most? Here are the facts on some common phobias along with prevalence rates.

Social phobia: A fear of social situations, social phobia generally appears for the first time in adolescence, at approximately 13 years of age.

Approximately 15 million American adults, or 6.8% of the population, are affected.

Specific phobia: Grouped into five major categories — animal type, natural environment type, situational type, blood-injected-injury type and "other" type — specific phobias generally appear in early childhood, around age 7.

This type of phobia includes, but is not limited to, the fear of heights, spiders, and flying, according to the NIMH. An estimated 8.7% of Americans, or 19.2 million people, suffer from a specific phobia. Many people suffer from more than one specific phobia.

Agoraphobia: The fear of situations in which escape is difficult, agoraphobia is commonly associated with panic disorder. Agoraphobia without panic disorder is relatively rare, affecting only 0.8% of the American population, or 1.8 million people.

It's important to note, however, that mental disorders are often underreported in the U.S.. This can be attributed to many factors, including a stigma associated with mental illness and lack of adequate funding for treatment. Therefore, it's possible that these numbers are low. However, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. among young adults, which demonstrates the importance of proper diagnosis and treatment.


The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. National Institute of Mental Health. February 15, 2008.

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