Up to 9 percent of the U.S. population has a specific phobia, according to the APA, including claustrophobia. Few seek help. “The phobias are the most predominant anxiety disorders that there are, but most [people with] them never get any treatment,” Wilson says. Instead, they do their best to avoid the situations that scare them.
But people who seek help can overcome their fears. “This isn’t like Type 1 diabetes,” which has to be managed through life, Wilson says. Nor is it something that people can usually “just get over,” adds Brenda Wiederhold, a clinical psychologist who treats anxiety disorders at the Virtual Reality Medical Center in San Diego and Brussels. She says fear that’s unrelenting, excessive and irrational should drive patients to see a professional who treats anxiety. “If you’re starting to avoid things; if you know you need a medical test and you put off the MRI for a year – that’s when it’s gone from a fear to a phobia,” she says, noting that the condition typically manifests when people with a genetic predisposition for an anxiety disorder face a life stressor.
Even people whose claustrophobia-related anxiety isn’t debilitating or constant can improve with treatment. “Whether you have the disorder or you don’t have the disorder, if you have something that’s unpleasant to you, and you want to get rid of it – that’s the sign to get help,” Wilson says.