Depression and Phobias

What’s the Link Between Depression and Phobias?

One in four of the world’s global population has a mental health disorder. There are more than 297 mental health disorders listed in the current DSM V, and some mental health conditions are far more common than others. The most common mental health disorders, across the globe and demographic lines, are depression and anxiety. About 30% of U.S. adults will develop a type of anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, while 6.7% of adults will become depressed in a given year.

Phobias are a form of anxiety disorder, wherein a patient will have an irrational, and all-encompassing fear of a person, place, thing, or a specific situation. Nineteen million people in the U.S. have a phobia, with most phobias starting around the age of seven. Unfortunately, depression and anxiety are closely linked, with depression symptoms worsening or triggering anxiety, and vice versa.

Depression and Phobias

What are the different types of phobias?

A phobia is an irrational fear of something that is unlikely to cause a person harm. However, that does not stop a person with a phobia from experiencing debilitating and distressing symptoms of anxiety when confronted with their fear. An estimated 12% of people in the U.S. have a specific phobia, with many others having several phobias at once.

There are dozens of phobias, but in the DSM V, they are broken down into five distinct categories.

  1. Phobias related to animals
  2. Phobias of the natural environment
  3. Phobias related to injury and medical issues
  4. Phobias associated with a specific situation or action
  5. Phobias non-specified


Phobias are quite a broad category of anxiety disorders. Some of the most common phobias that people are diagnosed with are:

  • Social phobias
  • Fear of open spaces
  • Fear of heights
  • Fear of flying
  • Claustrophobia, or fear of enclosed spaces
  • Fear of insects
  • Fear of snakes
  • Fear of dogs
  • Fear of storms
  • Fear of needles

When a person has a phobia, they will experience anxiety symptoms or have a full-blown panic attack when confronted with the object of their fear. In severe cases of phobia, a person may become anxious and fearful at the thought of the object or situation that makes them anxious. Untreated phobias can cause distress and impair a person’s functioning.

What are the symptoms of a phobia?

  • Irrational fear of a person, place, thing, or situation that is unlikely to cause harm
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of powerlessness
  • Dizziness, shaking and sweating
  • Flushing and chills
  • Chest tightness, pain, trouble breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • A sense of terror or impending doom
  • Changes to their routine to avoid the object of fear
  • A fear of dying from symptoms

What is depression?

Depression and phobias are similar in that they are adverse mental health conditions. Depression is a mood disorder, and it can be broken down into several clinical subtypes. The specific subtype a person has can vary based on several factors, including their genetics, their temperament, and environmental stresses and triggers. Each case of depression is unique, and the severity, duration, and manifestations of symptoms can vary significantly from one patient to the next.

Unfortunately, depression and anxiety disorders such as phobias often go hand in hand. People who are already susceptible to depression can experience a depressive episode after developing a phobia and experiencing a panic attack. Sometimes, the symptoms of depression can be worsened by phobias. For example, social isolation is typical in cases of depression. If a person is also experiencing panic attacks, they may further isolate themselves to avoid triggering or worsening of anxiety symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of depression include the following, and can impair a person’s emotional, physical, and behavioral state:

  • Having trouble sleeping, either sleeping too much or too little
  • Feeling sluggish and fatigued despite getting enough sleep at night
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Unexplained aches or pains
  • Severe feelings of guilt, self-loathing, and low self-esteem
  • Anger and irritability
  • Pervasive feelings of sadness
  • Social isolation
  • Not enjoying usual activities
  • Missing work, or school
  • Not fulfilling responsibilities
  • Engaging in self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts

Untreated depression can be incredibly dangerous. It is impossible for patients and their loved ones to know how severe an episode will get. Depression symptoms can severely impact a person’s life, and in the worst-case scenario, a depressed person can take their life. Untreated, comorbid phobias can also increase the severity and duration of a person’s depressive symptoms. Experiencing panic attacks from a phobia can be embarrassing, and cause a depressed person to isolate themselves further, and continue to lower their self-esteem. Although these two disorders are complex and serious issues, they are highly treatable.

How are depression and phobias treated?

Treatment for mental health conditions will need to be customized to each patient’s unique needs and circumstances. For a positive outcome, patients with comorbid depression and phobias will need tailored holistic, and integrated treatment methods. Results are most beneficial when phobias and depression are treated simultaneously.

For depression, patients often benefit the most from a combination of medication and talk therapy. Phobias and other anxiety disorders can also benefit from antidepressant and antianxiety medications, but exposure therapy is one of the most beneficial ways to alleviate the symptoms of a phobia. In exposure therapy, a patient will work closely with a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist to desensitize themselves to the object of their fear. Cognitive behavioral therapy and support groups for people with similar phobias and depression can be beneficial to patients.

While there is no cure for either a phobia or depression, there are effective treatment methods. Mental health conditions like depression and phobias are chronic and require ongoing therapy and support. But after initial treatment, many patients can go on to live a life free from the symptoms of these conditions.

Are you or a loved struggling with depression symptoms and a phobia? There is help. Please contact Pulse TMS today to look into therapy and deep brain stimulation treatment options for your mental health.