Symptoms and Factors of Dementophobia

Distressed looking man sitting on hospital bed, head in hand, night

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The fear of madness is generally known as dementophobia. People who suffer from this fear are afraid that they are going insane or losing touch with reality. The fear may be triggered by a family history of mental illness or periods of severe stress.

Mental Illness and Stigmatization

Mental illness has long been associated with confinement, painful treatments, and public derision. At various points in history, those suffering from a mental illness were thought to be possessed by evil spirits, voluntarily acting out, or simply uncontrollable. Only in the late 20th century did the medical establishment and the general public begin to recognize mental illness as a treatable medical condition.

If you have older relatives who went through the early or mid-20th-century asylums, you may fear to undergo the same treatment. Although treatment protocols have changed rapidly, the stories of surviving inmates are often chilling.

You might also be afraid of social stigmatization. Some mental illnesses cause tics, vocal outbursts, and socially inappropriate behaviors. While stigmatization is not as common as it was, it does exist. You may fear losing friends and family or being embarrassed in front of strangers due to mental illness.

Common Symptoms

Those suffering from a phobia of going mad often exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Severe depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Feeling faint
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Breathlessness

Anxiety-Related Factors

Depersonalization and derealization are subjective changes in perception. They are extremely common during panic attacks and times of intense stress but can create a feeling of disconnectedness with the body and with the wider world. This feeling can lead to a feeling that you're going insane. Ironically, these factors can lead to a self-replicating cycle.

A phobia of going insane can lead to panic attacks, which can further heighten the conviction that you are, in fact, going insane. Therapy may be the only way to break this cycle.

Statistics show that those who have a relative with a mental illness are more likely to develop a similar illness. The knowledge that you are at a somewhat higher risk of developing mental illness can further add to the fear.

Getting Help

Phobias are often treated with a mix of medications and therapy. Therapists generally draw from a variety of cognitive-behavioral techniques to help sufferers challenge their beliefs about mental illness and ultimately develop healthier ways of thinking.

Psychoeducation, in which you learn more about specific mental illnesses, is often helpful. Your therapist may also work with you to explore the meaning that your fear has to you. The goal of treatment is usually to help you understand the complex issues involved with the fear in order to minimize the fearful feelings and emotions.

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  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.