The phenomenon of a misnomer, whereby a wrong or inaccurate name or designation is assigned or used, has long been known. Well, at least in the medical field. As a person from a tropical country I will not hesitate to use this phenomenon, to start this conversation with the example of malaria. Well, malaria came to be known so because ancient Italians believed that the disease was cause by “mal’aria”, an Italian word for bad air. Over time it was discovered that malaria was caused by plasmodium, but the disease continued to be referred to by its “original” name. Although the disease maintained its name, appropriate measures are being taken to prevent and treat malaria.
Similarly in psychiatry there is a group of anxiety disorders called “specific phobias”. A specific phobia is defined as an overwhelming irrational fear of an object or situation that poses little or no danger. Phobias are characterised by an uncontrolled form of anxiety when exposed to the source of the phobia; avoidance of the cause of the phobia at all costs; overwhelming fear of the phobia that affects the person’s ability to function properly; overt awareness of the irrational fear and inability to control the fear.
During the course of the 20th century, a group of words has been coined to join the phobia family. These include xenophobia, homophobia and islamophobia. Unfortunately these newly coined forms of phobia do not fit the definition of a true phobia, as psychiatrists know it. They are reflections of mere lack of tolerance, hatred and feelings of disgust. Unlike the malaria misnomer whereby those affected by the disease get the treatment they deserve, sufferers of the emerging groups of phobias do not get the treatment they deserve. They hide behind the sugar coating of a genuine psychiatric disorder and are treated as victims of the illness they have. The time has come for us to see the face of hatred for what it is and call it by its real name because hate by any name is still hate. If these emerging phobias are truly phobia, then why are there no policies to ensure that persons affected by them get the psychiatric help and therapy that they need?
Now everyone has been greatly made uncomfortable by something that they clearly do not like at some point of time, but does that give them the right to call that something a phobia? By labelling feelings of disgust, dislike or disagreement, a phobia – potentially criminal behaviour is justified as an innocent psychiatric condition that requires treatment other than the criminal discriminative behaviour that it is.