Nosocomephobia, the irrational fear of hospitals, is a common medical phobia in which a person suffering will avoid visiting the hospital (especially being treated) at all costs.
While it may seem backward to outsiders, considering hospitals are places designed to make people feel better, nosocomephobia is a true phobia that can prevent sufferers from obtaining important care or treatment.
This particular phobia may be accompanied by other related phobias such as Latrophobia, the fear of doctors, or Thanatophobia, the fear of death. U.S. President Richard Nixon is famously cited as having nosocomephobia, refusing to be treated for a blood clot because he didn’t believe he’d make it out alive.
It’s important to understand that nosocomephobia is different to the mild anxiety associated with hospitals, as this is actually quite normal. Nosocomephobia defines a fear that is in excess and disrupts a normal life.
Symptoms of nosocomephobia differ from that of normal medical-related nerves. Most people have a mild distaste or discomfort around hospitals, being as they are places where illness, pain, and sometimes even death occur. Yet, this is not representative of nosocomephobia.
Nosocomephobia sufferers have an excessive and irrational fear of hospitals. Even if involved in a trivial hospital situation, where there is no pain, suffering, or fear to be had, the sufferer cannot emotionally handle the circumstances of going to, or being in, a hospital.
When threatened with a visit to the hospital, a sufferer is likely to be induced into a panic attack, which may include symptoms such as:
When their fear of the hospital outweighs an important need for treatment, nosocomephobia poses a real threat to human livelihood.
Beyond risking their own health at the cost of saving their emotional wellbeing, a sufferer of nosocomephobia may also avoid visiting close family or friends if they are in a hospital. This could cause someone to miss out on births, important surgeries, emergency situations, or even their last moments with someone. A nosocomephobic may feel guilty about missing out on these moments, but that guilt will not outweigh their irrational fear and need to stay away from hospitals.
Often, a fear of hospitals may develop during childhood. Perhaps a child suffered a traumatic event at a hospital or relating to a hospital that instilled such fear. They may have been a hospital patient themselves, suffering at the hands of their condition, or a visitor/relative to someone in a hospital. A child that spent years watching a parent suffer in a hospital from cancer, for example, may have an innate fear and distaste for hospitals for the rest of their life.
Nosocomephobia, the irrational fear of hospitals, could also develop as a secondary fear stemming from something else, like mysophobia, the fear of germs.
Hospitals illicit certain feelings in a person – awareness of mortality, sensory dissonance, germs, or grief. These triggered feelings could ultimately turn into nosocomephobia as well.
The trick to treating nosocomephobia is not treating the symptoms, but rather, the phobia itself. While a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication to treat the anxious symptoms of nosocomephobia, this is not a long-term solution to the fear. This may make certain treatment options more possible, being that the sufferer will be more relaxed and willing to face their fears.
As with all phobias, the best treatment is calm, rational thinking. A sufferer may find this in therapy, or they may find it on their own. One must try to understand that hospitals exist to do good and to help, not to harm. Facing these positive facts may help reduce the stigma. It’s also important to humanize healthcare workers as warm, caring people. Getting to know doctors and nurses may help break down the barriers between the sufferer and the fear, allowing the sufferer to see that the medical profession is not all bad.
It is very important that this phobia is treated, as it could keep the sufferer from essential care that they one day might need. If an emergency were to arise, that person must be able to be treated at a hospital. Avoiding treatment of the phobia would only make an extenuating circumstance like this much worse than it already would be.
While personal health is obviously the number one priority as far as treatment goes, it’s also important to get treated so the sufferer doesn’t miss out on important moments in a hospital. Those births, surgeries, and last moments mentioned before should be shared with those who matter. A sufferer may look back and regret moments missed due to their phobia, and no one wants to have those regrets.
One method that claims to have effectiveness in treating nosocomephobia is hypnotherapy. If the symptoms are out of hand and other techniques have not been successful in treating nosocomephobia, perhaps hypnotherapy would be another option. A trained phobia expert may be able to use hypnotherapy to change their conditioned response (irrational fear) to the stimulus (in this case, hospitals). Some claim that hypnotherapy can even cure a phobia in as little as one session.
Nosocomephobia can be prevented by maintaining a healthy relationship with hospitals throughout the years. When preventing nosocomephobia in children, it’s important to make sure they understand the helpfulness and benefits of hospitals, doctors, and treatment. Introduce them to medical professionals and show them an example of an adult who is not afraid of hospitals.
If one begins to associate negative feelings with hospitals, it’s important to try to resolve the issue before it gets worse. If one associates hospitals with death, make sure they can also understand a hospital’s connection to life. If they associate it with germs, make sure they understand its connection to health. If they associate it with pain, make sure they also understand its connection to comfort.
There is no better prevention that consistent action and reaffirmation of the benefits of hospitals. After all, they truly are designed to help and heal.