While the idea to overcome one’s fear is glorified and propagated all the time, there is a very good reason why humans are programmed to feel fear. It allows us to avoid difficult situations, and more importantly, increases our chances of survival. Then, there are phobias. It is a type of mental disorder that surfaces in the form of irrational fear about an animal, place, item, or situation. Although most people dismiss it as something made up, there are nearly 19 million people in the United States with one or more phobias. Among these, fear of heights is something that is seen in the majority of individuals, and it is known as Acrophobia. Here are some interesting facts about it:
1. Not Limited to Extreme Heights
The popular belief surrounding acrophobia is that it is induced when an individual is at extreme heights such as standing on top of skyscrapers, mountains, or towers; however, those are exaggerated. People with acrophobia can experience it even when stepping on escalators, driving through multistory parking, being on a rollercoaster, or looking out from a building at a relatively low height.
2. Higher in Women
It is not uncommon for men to develop this phobia; however, women tend to experience acrophobia more than men. Women outnumber men 2 to 1 when it comes to acrophobia. According to experts, women are more anxious than men due to their strong emotions, this makes them vulnerable to other phobias as well.
3. Fairly Common
Among all the recognized phobias, acrophobia is considered to be the most common. Out of the entire population of the world, 2% to 5% of people suffer from this phobia. It may not sound like a lot, but even when we take 2% of 7 billion people on the planet, it translates to 140 million people or 1 in every 20 people.
4. Surprising Development
Most people will suspect that any traumatic experience regarding heights during childhood can result in the development of this phobia. Surprisingly, individuals who experience balance issues during their early life can also develop this phobia. While it is not fully understood, psychologists claim that the brain triggers fearful thoughts because lack of balance means compromised safety at heights.
The origins of acrophobia are unknown; however, Dr. Andra Verga, an Italian physician is widely accepted to be the first individual to discover this phobia in 1887. He also named it after the Greek word “Akro”, which means morbid fear of heights. Interestingly, Dr. Andra also had acrophobia, and being unable to get help for his condition motivated him to discover this phobia.
Although it is one of the most common forms of phobia, individuals suffering from it rarely seek help because they prefer to avoid situations and places with heights. This is because the present infrastructure allows one to live their entire life without ever having to climb high places. Out of all the people suffering from this phobia, only 10% to 25% of people visit a psychologist.
7. Modern Therapy
With the continuous advancements of our modern world, it is becoming easier for experts to utilize new technology in a way that benefits humanity. Virtual reality has seen exponential growth in recent years, and it is being used to treat acrophobia. Interestingly, virtual reality is been used since 1990 for various kinds of phobias. A great aspect of it is that therapists are able to control certain aspects of the stimulation, increasing or decreasing height depending on the patient’s comfort. By doing so people get to experience heights safely, although it may sound like it doesn’t work, it has helped numerous people get over this phobia.
8. Complicated Assessments
Assessment for this phobia is carried out either by the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems or The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, both of these tests ask a series of questionnaires. However, it is seen that individuals with acrophobia are biased and tend to overestimate the danger, resulting in inaccurate analysis.
9. No Cure
One thing that makes acrophobia scary even on the ground is that, presently, there are no cures available for it. While virtual reality and exposure therapy seem to lower the anxious feelings associated with it, acrophobia is incurable.
10. Medicine in Works
A drug called D-cycloserine has been in tests since 2008, and it is claimed to cure a majority of phobias, including acrophobia. It works by blocking the NMDA receptors, which are responsible for generating fear. While it sounds promising, it is still in tests for over a decade.