The Prevalence of Phobias Across the U.S. and the World

Social Phobia, Agoraphobia, and Specific Phobia Explained

Girl being rejected by other girls
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Phobias are the most common psychiatric illness in women and the second most common in men older than 25, according to the American Psychiatric Association. The National Institute of Mental Health reports 8-percent of adults in the United States to suffer from this anxiety disorder.  

To receive a phobia diagnosis, your anxiety "must be out of proportion to the actual threat" and last for six months or more, according to the latest information from the American Psychiatric Association. Additionally, the phobic person "no longer has to recognize that their anxiety is excessive or unreasonable."

Social Phobia, Specific Phobia, and Agoraphobia

There are three groups of phobias: social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia.

If you suffer from social phobia, you're afraid of being humiliated while doing something in front of other people. The most common types of social phobia are fear of public speaking or a generalized social phobia where your fear is so intense you avoid interacting with people. Social phobia may prevent you from living a full life because even a simple trip to the grocery store or a day at school is difficult.

People with agoraphobia are afraid of being alone and unable to escape. They won't leave home in order to avoid crowded streets, bridges, and other situations. This phobia seems to develop after experiencing one or more spontaneous panic attacks.

When you have a specific phobia, on the other hand, you're afraid of certain objects or situations. These phobias can have a large or small impact on your life, depending on whether the thing you fear is something you have to interact with frequently, such as water or dogs. 

Prevalence of Social Phobia

In the United States, approximately 6.8-percent of the population, about 15 million adults, suffer from social phobia in a given year. Social phobias typically develop at approximately 13 years of age.

Worldwide, the one-year prevalence of social phobia is estimated by various sources at 4.5-percent, while lifetime prevalence is approximately 3.6 percent. Again, rates vary drastically. For example, only 0.53 percent of South Koreans suffer from social phobias while the number of people in Udmurtia, Udmurt Republic (a sovereign republic within the Russian Federation) soars to 45.6 percent. 

Rates of social phobia appear to slightly decrease from ages 18 to 64, with a marked drop after the age of 65.

Prevalence of Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia appears suddenly or gradually, between adolescence and your mid-thirties. About two-thirds of the patients are women. 

Rates do not vary as dramatically between countries as those of other types of phobia. In the U.S., approximately 0.8-percent, or 1.8 million adults, are burdened with agoraphobia.

Lifetime prevalence rates for agoraphobia appear to stay stable from ages 18 to 64. Rates drop off in the elderly.

Prevalence of Specific Phobia

Specific phobia often begins in childhood, around the age of seven. In the U.S., a fear of animals is the most common specific phobia, with dogs, snakes, and bugs at the top of the list. 

In the U.S., approximately 9-percent of adults have specific phobia, with 22-percent of those cases labeled as severe. Fifteen percent of children between the ages of 13 and 18 have specific phobia, with only 0.6 percent considered severe.

Once again, rates vary widely in different countries, from 0.2 percent in Northern Ireland to approximately 8.8 percent in the United States.

Women are two to four times more likely than men to develop a specific phobia. Rates appear to increase slightly from ages 18 to 64. In older adults, however, the prevalence of specific phobias (along with other anxiety disorders) appears to drop dramatically. However, this may partly be due to underreporting of symptoms by older adults.

Phobia Treatment

Phobias that make mundane tasks impossible or interfere with your daily life and interpersonal relationships require treatment. Under the supervision of a healthcare provider, most phobia patients have a complete recovery and remain symptom-free for years, if not forever.

A cognitive behavior therapist is a mental health professional who can help you gradually confront and overcome your specific phobia. After a series of sessions, you eventually become accustomed to the object or situation and your panic and dread dissipate. 

Medication to control panic and anxiety is more common to treat social phobia than a specific phobia.

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Article Sources

  • American Psychiatric Association: Let's Talk Facts About Phobias
  • National Institute of Mental Health: The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America (2013)
  • Pontillo, et al., Journal of Clinical Geriatrics: Management and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in the Older Patient. (2008)
  • PsychCentral: DSM-5 Changes - Anxiety Disorders & Phobias (2013)
  • Somers, et al., Canadian Journal of Psychiatry: Prevalence and Incidence Studies of Anxiety Disorders: A Systematic Review of the Literature (2006)