The word ‘Dementophobia’ is used to denote the fear of insanity. It is derived from the Greek words Dementos and Phobos which mean ‘insanity’ and ‘fear’ respectively.
An individual having Dementophobia experiences extreme anxiety or a panic attack when s/he encounters a thought about going insane, or even a movie scene depicting insane person/situation. Excessive fear of this type can affect one’s day-to-day life. Often, the fear of going insane prevents the individual from leaving his/her house, or holding a steady job. Most patients of this type tend to be socially withdrawn and severely depressed.
Causes of fear of insanity
In most cases, a family history of the disease is the likeliest cause of fear of going insane. History has shown time and again that society is very cruel to people suffering from mental disorders like schizophrenia, manic depression etc. In the early 19th and 20th centuries, the only solution to tackle insanity was to throw the patient in an asylum-where inmates were given electric shocks and shackled all the time. So, a person having witnessed such cruelty towards a family member or a friend, or seen it portrayed in mass media, movies or news reports etc can be scared stiff of going crazy himself.
A very traumatic event in childhood such as murder, abuse, or rape etc can also lead to fear of insanity phobia.
Many famous talented and brilliant geniuses are known to have had mental breakdowns. Cases like actor-comedian Robin William’s recent suicide, (the brilliant comedian allegedly gave up on life after battling lifelong depression and also due to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease) could also aggravate the fear of insanity. Another famous case of a star descending to the depths of depression is that of famous singer-songwriter-dancer-actor Michael Jackson. From record breaking performances to facing allegations of child abuse, pedophilia, dependence on narcotic substances, reclusive behavior, numerous divorces and relationships, obsession with cosmetic surgery etc also stresses upon the fact that genius/fame/talent and wealth eventually lead to insanity. Thinking such thoughts over and over or watching these role models succumb to depression and insanity can trigger Dementophobia in individuals.
Stressful situations also aggravate excessive thoughts about going crazy and could turn into full blown fear of insanity. The phobic mainly believes that insanity could cause ‘crazy’ or abnormal behavior, tics, losing focus, saying crazy things etc which could lead him/her to be ridiculed or ostracized by society. This is true to an extent: society is often uneducated and unsympathetic about mental illness. Stereotypes such as ‘all mentally ill people are violent, abusive etc’ can cause us to shun all categories of mentally ill people. This belief is often true to an extent: many cases of Schizophrenics being ‘controlled by demonic forces or voices in the head’ asking them to do certain, violent, things has been reported. A very famous case is that of the murderer of John Lennon, Mark Chapman. The latter believed he had been asked by some “higher force” to commit the cruel act. The number of Dementophobia cases actually increased following this famous murder. It also led to more misconceptions and stigmatization of mental diseases.
Today, however, modern medicines can help prevent insanity and its symptoms, though they have to be taken regularly and often for life. Movies or news stories depicting violent crimes being committed by patients after going off their meds can however intensify one’s Dementophobia.
Symptoms of Dementophobia
Dementophobia also produces a variety of mental and physical symptoms which typically include:
- General feeling of doom, depression, anxiety
- Full blown panic attack-shaking, heart palpitations, breathlessness etc at the thought of going insane. This is aggravated when interacting with an insane person, or watching or reading reports about them.
- Fear of being institutionalized, ridiculed by society etc might make the phobic lose touch with reality or become socially withdrawn.
Overcoming the fear of insanity phobia
It can be quite tricky to control and treat the fear of going insane. However, a mixture of medicines and counseling therapy has been known to prevent anxiety associated with the condition. The downside of medicines is that they can increase the phobic’s belief that s/he is crazy, making it a ‘catch-22’ situation.
Therefore, it is important that the sufferer educates him/herself about various mental disorders, particularly the one s/he is fearful of getting. Many modern therapies like Cognitive behavior therapy are also proven to be very useful in helping phobics understand the meaning of their fear. Other useful therapies for treating Dementophobia are Hypnotherapy and NLP or neuro linguistic programming. Both these can help get to bottom of the phobia and minimize the fearful thoughts and symptoms related to it.