Phobias common for students - study

By Elizabeth Binning

Ears are just one of the things that tertiary students fear. Photo / Thinkstock
Ears are just one of the things that tertiary students fear. Photo / Thinkstock

Toenails, melted cheese, doorknobs, tree roots and ears are just a few of the things tertiary students fear, according to a study.

The nationwide study of 1000 students, which was done late last month and released yesterday, found that just over 40 per cent have suffered from phobias or an anxiety disorder at some point.

Around a third said their phobia or anxiety was moderately serious, while 4 per cent classed it as extremely serious.

Ten per cent said they suffered from a persistent, irrational anxiety which caused depression, nervousness and panic attacks.

Slightly more women than men suffered but the vast majority - 87 per cent - had shared their fears with someone else, often a parent, friend or close relative.

Phobic Trust chief executive Marcia Read said the percentage of students with anxiety or phobias was higher than the national average of about 25 per cent. She believed university students were more susceptible because of their vulnerable age.

"The high achieving environment of university combined with financial stress has an unexpected impact on students. For some, even going into lecture rooms may be distressing."

Of the students who said they had suffered from phobias, 17 per cent feared bugs or spiders, followed by 12 per cent who feared heights.

More people feared death or loss than drugs. Flying, crowds and the dark were also more scary than nightmares, eels and aliens.

While some of the better-known phobias such as a fear of snakes, rodents, injections, sharks or clowns made the list, there were also several unusual ones including fears of small objects like glitter or stickers, bananas, things with the texture of foam , hygiene and gas bottles.

Ms Read said that while some phobias might be triggered by a bad experience, many people were simply predisposed to having an anxiety disorder. She said anxiety disorders contributed to work and school absenteeism,many sufferers ended up on benefits and some committed suicide.

One AUT hospitality student who took part in the survey and suffers from severe anxiety said she was surprised to hear that so many of her peers also had phobias or anxiety problems.

The 22-year-old, who only wanted to give her first name, Charlotte, said her anxiety stemmed back to abuse she suffered as a child.

"I've always been worried and scared as a kid and growing up not having much confidence, and in my teens it just turned to crap really. It was pretty much at its worst a couple years ago before I starting actually getting any help for myself. I just had a breaking point really where ... I thought 'this isn't normal, I can't go on like this' and I asked for help."

Charlotte said it might sound like a cliche but that people suffering from anxiety needed to open up to someone.

"Honestly, just find someone that can listen to you. It's so much more common than you think. I was so embarrassed to talk to anyone ... but it actually cripples you if you don't talk about it.

"The thing that has helped me the most has definitely been talking to someone."

* For more information or to get help for phobias or anxiety disorders visit


* 41 per cent of students have had a phobia or anxiety disorder compared with 25 per cent of the general population.

* Phobias of bugs/spiders were the most common followed by phobias of tight or small spaces, work/exams, social situations, water and death/loss.

* People also had phobias of germs, small objects, fire alarms, toenails, gas bottles, basketball training, raw chicken, people on stilts, balloons and plastic doorways.

- NZ Herald

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