How Many People Have 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

Phobias are the most common mental disorders in the U.S. according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Approximately 10 percent of people in the U.S. have specific phobias, 7.1 percent experience social phobias, and 0.9 percent have agoraphobia. Whether you're terrified of spiders, heights, or speaking in public, you're not alone.

It's possible that these numbers are low since mental disorders are often under-reported 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.

These disorders can be disabling, which demonstrates the importance of proper diagnosis and treatment. The good news is that these conditions can be treated effectively once you seek help.

What Are Phobias?

A phobia is an overwhelming, irrational, and persistent fear that leads to avoiding the object or situation. It can be a fear of a specific thing or of a social setting.

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. If you have a phobia and you can't avoid the object or situation you fear, you can experience extreme anxiety. You may organize your life in ways that help you avoid the thing you fear, yet may still experience anxiety even thinking about it.

Researchers are uncertain exactly what causes phobias. However, genetics, culture, and life events seem to play a role.

Whatever the cause, phobias are treatable and can often be overcome with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Symptoms of Phobias

Phobic symptoms can occur through exposure to the fear object or situation, or sometimes merely by thinking about it. 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.

Prevalence of the Most Common Phobias

Prevalence is the measure of the proportion of a population who has a certain condition. Here are the statistics and prevalence rates of some common phobias:

Social Phobia

Social phobia is now called social anxiety disorder. It is a fear of social situations where you will be with unfamiliar people or may be scrutinized. Those with this disorder fear being embarrassed or humiliated in these situations. The fear of speaking in public is a specific type of social phobia.

  • Social phobia generally appears for the first time in adolescence, at 13 years of age.
  • Approximately 15 million American adults, or 7.1 percent of the adult population, are affected and 5.5 percent of the teenage population.
  • About 30 percent of those with social phobia have a severe case
  • Only about 40 percent of people with social phobia are being treated. More than a third of those with this disorder wait for 10 years or more before they seek treatment.
  • Only slightly more women than men have social anxiety disorder.

Specific Phobias

Specific phobias are grouped into five major categories—animal type, natural environment type, situational type, blood-injected-injury type, and "other" type.

  • NIMH and the Anxiety Disorders Association of America say the most common specific phobias are of closed-in places, heights, escalators, tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, dogs, animals, insects, thunder, public transportation, injuries involving blood, and dental and medical procedures.
  • Specific phobias generally appear in early childhood, around age 7.
  • An estimated 9.1 percent of Americans, more than 19 million people, have a specific phobia, and many people have more than one specific phobia.
  • The prevalence of specific phobias in teenagers is higher at 15.1 percent.
  • More than twice as many women as men have specific phobias.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is the fear of situations in which escape is difficult. If you have this phobia you might avoid being alone outside of your home, being in a crowded place, or traveling by car, bus, or airplane.

  • Agoraphobia is commonly associated with panic disorder. Agoraphobia without panic disorder is relatively rare, affecting only 0.9 percent of the American population, or 1.8 million people.
  • Over 40 percent of those who have agoraphobia have a severe case.
  • Less than half of the people with this condition are receiving treatment.
  • The average age-of-onset is 20 years old.
  • The prevalence for teenagers from age 13 to 18 is 2.4 percent.

A Word From Verywell

While feeling anxiety about speaking in public or encountering a snake is common, phobias can be disabling. If you experience anxiety attacks or you can't do activities you want to do because of your fears, help is available. Phobias are treatable and often you can get permanent relief.

View Article Sources
  • Agoraphobia. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/agoraphobia.shtml.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/social-anxiety-disorder.shtml.
  • Specific Phobias. Anxiety Disorders Association of America. https://adaa.org/sites/default/files/phobias_adaa.pdf.
  • Specific Phobia. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobia.shtml.