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Cured Phobics Say Help Is Available For Millions With Abnormal Fears

September 6, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A woman, saying she ″just wasn’t in the world...wasn’t existing″ because fear kept her homebound for 30 years, said Friday that help is available for an estimated 13 million Americans with serious phobia problems.

Marjorie Goff of Washington said her message to phobia sufferers is ″you can do it if you want to,″ stressing the availability of help. She also urged more government research and other assistance.

Afraid to leave home, ″I just wasn’t in the world. My body was here, but I wasn’t existing,″ she said of the 30 years she spent suffering from agoraphobia, an abnormal fear of being in an open or public place.

″It’s hard to believe I’m here,″ she said, crediting Jerilyn Ross of the Phobia Society of America, in Rockville, Md., with helping her. The society said the estimate of more than 13 million Americans with serious phobias was developed by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Goff, Ross and other cured phobics joined Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla., at a news conference on the National Mall near the Washington Monument - a site chosen because of the monument’s significance in two major fears: heights and enclosed spaces.

Bilirakis is sponsoring a congressional resolution to designate October as Phobia Awareness Month. He said he hoped that getting Congress interested in the problem would focus more public attention, letting people with phobias know that they can be helped.

Ross, a one-time skiing enthusiast who developed a fear of high places, explained that phobias can be developed about virtually anything. She said one woman had contacted her because of a fear of hearing ″The Star-Spangled Banner.″

But phobias can be debilitating, she said, and most often involve situations in which people feel trapped, unable to get out if they want to.

The most common phobias, she said, include closed places, heights, public speaking, bridges, escalators, flying and tunnels.

She estimated that, like Goff, between 1 million and 2 million people suffer fear of leaving home.

In the past, this has most commonly affected women, she said, but there is a version found in men also, who force themselves to go to work, but then return home and don’t leave until work the next day.

The cure for phobias involves therapy in which the person is helped to confront the problem a little bit at a time and then overcome it, she said.

Ross said she once was unable to visit friends in high buildings because of overwhelming fear that she would jump to her death - even though she had no intention of jumping.

People with phobias come to fear the fear itself, she said, and go to any lengths to avoid situations in which it occurs.

Once the phobia develops, she said, it comes to have little to do with the feared object, but rather becomes a fear of panic and losing control, she added.

Phobia can be one of the most devastating of disorders, but also one of the most treatable, she said.

Ross and Goff urged increased government assistance in tracing the source of phobias - explaining that research is needed on whether they are inherited or are related to chemical of other physical problems.