CMHC, help us fight our fears and give us a support group

Rachel Freeman

Seeing a fellow student dry heaving on the east mall isn’t a pretty sight. People assume I’m folded over because of a few poor choices from the weekend before. Little do they know I’m hyperventilating because I fell down and slightly cut my hand. Seeing blood triggers a lifelong fear and can send me into a panic.


I, along with 19 million other Americans, have a specific phobia. Specific phobia is a mental disorder that causes the afflicted person to have a specific fear of one thing or topic. In my case, it is blood; for others, spiders. The Counseling and Mental Health Center, despite offering multiple support groups targeting other mental conditions, does not offer any services for specific phobia disorder. In the best interest of students, the CMHC should provide support group services to students who have specific phobias. 


Specific phobia is the most common anxiety disorder, affecting 4 percent to 5 percent of the total population. Of the six disorders that fall under the anxiety umbrella, specific phobia afflicts approximately 33 percent of all people with anxiety disorders. As the most common anxiety disorder, specific phobias deserve a dedicated support group. 


The CMHC offers mindfulness classes and skill-building groups that help students learn to cope with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders and stress. “Anxiety,” for example, has a mindfulness class and two skill building groups. These are all important topics, but specific phobia disorder should not be ignored while other issues have multiple groups dedicated to them. 


Not only does specific phobia disorder affect a significant student population, but it is also different from other anxiety disorders and thus deserves a separate support group. Psychiatry professor Stephen Strokwski explained the general differences: “Phobias are excessive fears about specific things like spiders or heights in which exposure to that thing creates anxiety. Generalized anxiety is present nearly all the time and not related to specific things or events.” 


These fundamental differences between the conditions matter because the disorders require vastly different treatment which cannot be administered through one mixed group. Specific phobia is commonly treated with, according to Professor Strakowski, cognitive behavioral therapy such as desensitization. This involves repeatedly exposing the affected person to the object of their phobia, a practice that can be effective but also emotionally distressing. People with generalized anxiety cannot benefit from this treatment style and have their own challenging therapy experiences — which people with specific phobias cannot benefit from. Because their treatments and reasons for symptoms are so different, it is ineffective to try to treat both disorders in the same support group.


For CMHC to not provide any support to those who suffer from specific phobia is a gross oversight. Personally, I have struggled with my phobia my entire life and recently finally sought treatment by going to CMHC for help. Ultimately, I was told they had no services to offer me. Individual counseling at the center is only for short-term problems, which is regrettable but understandable due to budget constraints. CMHC has  responded well to budgetary concerns by providing support groups to help most students with their limited resources. However, CMHC should reconsider how they allocate their resources to more efficiently benefit our community. 


Creating a group for people with specific phobia(s) would help reach the sizable student population who suffer everyday. Having a group of people going through the same struggles could help those who feel alone and hopeless to take control of their lives. CMHC should divert some resources from communities already being overserved and provide some support to a population that currently has no resources. When creating their fall 2018 support groups, CMHC should create a group targeted for those with specific phobia.


Freeman is a international relations and global studies junior from Cedar Park. Follow her on twitter @rachel_frmn.