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

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 10 percent of people in the U.S. experience phobias. In fact, phobias are the most common mental disorder in the U.S. and more women are affected than men. 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 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

What do people with phobias fear the most? 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 a fear of social situations. It generally appears for the first time in adolescence, at 13 years of age. Approximately 15 million American adults, or 6.8 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, and only about 40 percent are being treated.
  • Specific phobia: These are 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. An estimated 8.7 percent of Americans, or 19.2 million people, have a specific phobia, and many people have more than one specific phobia. Its prevalence in teenagers is higher at 15.1 percent.
  • Agoraphobia: Agoraphobia is the fear of situations in which escape is difficult. It is commonly associated with panic disorder. Agoraphobia without panic disorder is relatively rare, affecting only 0.8 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.

It's important to note 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.


Prevalence. National Insitute of Mental Health.