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Common Mental Disorders

Specific Phobia

Specific Phobia is a common mental disorder that affects 2-4% of people each year. Specific phobia refers to intense fear related to exposure of specific objects and situations, to an extent that prevents it from being faced. Fear is a natural response to danger. Yet, the feeling of fear experienced in individuals with specific phobia is out of proportion of the actual threat. This affects an individual's daily life, such as by intervening in their work when they escape from the threat. 

Common types of Specific Phobia in Hong Kong include:

  • Animal phobia: insect, dog

  • Natural environment phobia: water, height, and storm

  • Situational phobia: confined space, dentist, airplanes

  • Body-based phobia: injection, blood, vomitus 


The psychology and medical field believe that specific phobia is caused by an interaction between biological, psychological and environmental factors. Some people may have certain personal experiences (e.g. being bitten by a dog), or have witnessed or listened to experience shared by others (e.g. air crash). Yet, the majority of them failed to remember the origin of the intense fear.

Individuals with specific phobia will have physical reactions such as heart palpitation, sweating, trembling and shortness of breath. On a cognitive level, fear-related thoughts encourage them to engage in escape behaviors. This in turn leads to the development of a vicious cycle and keeps the phobia going. 

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