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Aquaphobia is a kind of specific phobia, an abnormal and persistent fear of water. It involves a level of fear that is beyond control or that may interfere with daily life. Specifically, people suffering from aquaphobia may experience anxiety even though they realize the water in an ocean, a river, a lake, a creek or even a bathtub may pose no imminent threat. They may avoid such activities as boating and swimming, or they may avoid swimming in the deep ocean despite having mastered basic swimming skills. At home, they may even be afraid to take baths or showers.
Phobias (in the clinical meaning of the term) are the most common form of anxiety disorders. An American study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that between 8.7% and 18.1% of Americans suffer from phobias. Broken down by age and gender, the study found that phobias were the most common mental illness among women in all age groups and the second most common illness among men older than 25.
Of the simple phobias, aquaphobia is among the more common subtypes. In an article on anxiety disorders, Lindal and Stefansson suggest that aquaphobia may affect as many as 1.8% of the general Icelandic population, or roughly one in fifty people. Taken as a standard, their work implies that in the United States, for example, almost five million people may suffer from aquaphobia.
Medical professionals indicate that aquaphobia may manifest itself in a person through their specific experiences or due to biological factors. Some people may develop the phobia as a reaction to a traumatic water experience---a near drowning or other such event. Others may have simply failed to have acquired experience in the water through casual events like swimming or boating events due to cultural factors. Other individuals may suffer from an "instinctive reaction" to the water which arises separate from any observable factors. They have a gut reaction that limits their fundamental comfort level in any sort of casual water activities, such as swimming. Others suffers may experience discomfort around the water without falling into any of the previous three categories.
- Traumatic water experience
- Cultural limitations
- Instinctive fear
Confusion between aquaphobia and hydrophobia
Many people mistakenly refer to aquaphobia as 'hydrophobia'; hydrophobia is in fact a symptom of later-stage rabies, and manifests itself in humans as difficulty in swallowing, fear when presented with liquids to drink and an inability to quench one's thirst. "Hydro-" is Greek and "aqua-" Latin, both meaning "water". Most phobias have a Greek prefix, but because the word "hydrophobia" was first used to describe late-stage rabies, the term "aquaphobia" using a Latin prefix was used to prevent confusion.
Aquaphobia as part of the public imagination
References & Bibliography
^ The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
^ Kessler et al, Prevalence, Severity, and Comorbidity of 12-Month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, June 2005, Archive of General Psychiatry, Vol. 20
^ Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1993 Jul;88(1):29-34.
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