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Fear of Crossing Bridges a "Situational Phobia"

Fear of Crossing Bridges a "Situational Phobia"

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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Ed Yeates ReportingThe horrendous collapse of the bridge in Minnesota isn't helping people who suffer real anxiety about crossing bridges, even those that are safe. It's called a "situational" phobia.

It's hard enough for those who were there, but imagine how folks diagnosed with a phobia long before this happened are reacting now.

Adrian Janit, with Valley Mental Health, said, "Seeing a bridge collapse is going to reinforce what somebody with a bridge phobia already believes about bridges, and that is that they are very dangerous."

Adrian Janit wrote his doctoral on phobias at Northern Illinois University. As a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a former graduate from Weber State, he's finishing his internship at Valley Mental Health in Salt Lake. He says the Minnesota disaster is a setback for patients trying to work through what is sometimes dubbed "gephydrophobia."

Janit says, "There's also some kind of recency effect that, ‘Oh, I know I shouldn't cross bridges now because look, the other day, a bridge collapsed.'"

The fear of crossing bridges is more common than we think. In fact, back east some people pay $25 per day to have somebody else drive them across the bridge. Folks like Paulette Magarik and her fear of long-span bridges like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Magarik said, "I have tried it a couple of times and I've made it, but I'm always afraid I'll panic and stop in the middle of the bridge."

Fear of crossing bridges is a situational phobia, and it might parallel other fears as well.

In treatment, patients may be asked to set up a priority list of things they most and least fear. For example, Janit says the most scary situation to her is to drive across the Golden Gate bridge. Less scary is driving across smaller bridges. And below that, maybe just driving in general.

"We start on something that is low to moderate in anxiety and then work on that first," Janit explained. Eventually, gradually approaching the bridge, sitting nearby, then stepping onto it. "The body has a way of resetting itself to the non-anxious position if you just stay in it," she adds.

Stay in it, Janit says, until the body has a chance to understand this is not a dangerous situation.

While help is readily available to people with phobias, Janit says some would rather drive five miles out of their way, around a bridge, rather than see a therapist.

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