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Understanding Dementophobia

written by: renasherwood • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 2/21/2011

Dementophobia is the specific fear of insanity or becoming certifiably insane to the point where a patient cannot enjoy normal life. A person can get dementophobia even if there is no cause for that person to believe he or she has mental illness.

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    Dementophobia is the fear of insanity or of becoming insane. The dementophobic may be fully aware that they have no reason to fear going insane but that still does not stop the fear or the painful panic attacks it can cause. As a result, the dementophobic may miss many necessary activities in order to avoid situations that may trigger panic attacks.

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    What Is a Specific Phobia?

    The word “phobia" is derived from the name of Phobos, the Greek god of fear. Appropriately, Phobos was the son of Ares, the Greek god of war. Keeping these two Greek gods in mind gives us some idea of what goes on inside the mind and bodies of a person that suffers from a specific phobia, such as a fear of insanity.

    Any simple or specific phobia like dementophobia has five main characteristics, according to “Mastering Anxiety: The Nature and Treatment of Anxious Conditions" (Plenum Publishing Corporation; 1991):

    • The fear is persistent, meaning it can come on a daily basis
    • The fear is irrational and the panic response is way out of proportion to the lack of threat to the patient
    • The patient will know that the fear is irrational but is afraid anyway
    • The patient will do anything he or she can to avoid the fear or supposed cause of fear
    • The fear causes a person to avoid many normal situations in order to avoid the fear and the physical response the fear brings

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    How this Applies to Demetophobia

    Dementophobics are so afraid of becoming insane that they may be scared to leave the house because outside of their comfort zones they may encounter some feared but unknown event that causes them to lose their sanity. For example, a dementophobic may have an intense fear of head injuries because she may believe that all head injuries cause brain damage which can cause insanity.

    Crucially, there is no definitive evidence supporting the belief, and the person knows it, but the dementophobic will still feel fear. Fearing head injuries, the dementophobic may avoid all public transportation, amusement parks, team sports, bike rides, car rides or even sweeping the floor because she may accidentally strike her head on a shelf when bending down to remove the piles of dirt.

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    Physical Symptoms

    Intense fear may bring on panic attacks which cause physical symptoms that are difficult to ignore. These symptoms include heart palpitations, headaches, breathing problems, feeling faint, breaking out into a sweat, tightness in the chest, dizziness, nausea and loss of bladder or bowel control.

    Unfortunately, the dementophobic may fear that having a panic attack in public may be a sign of insanity or that everyone they know will judge him to be insane. This only reinforces the phobia and makes everyday tasks like going to the shops, visiting family members or going for a job interview nearly impossible.

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    Sources

    “Mastering Anxiety: The Nature and Treatment of Anxious Conditions." Ronald A. Kleinknecht. Plenum Publishing Corporation; 1991.

    World Health Organization. “Phobic Disorders." http://www.mentalneurologicalprimarycare.org/downloads/primary_care/Phobic_disorders.pdf