Gephirophobia (extreme fear of bridges)-symptoms, causes, and treatment
Gephirophobia is the irrational or excessive fear of bridges . It is a phobia that has been described and studied in relation to other types of phobia (not as a particular clinical picture). As it is a fear of structures that are especially common in large cities, gephirophobia can represent a significant experience of discomfort for the person presenting it.
We will now look at what gephrophobia is, what some of its manifestations and possible causes are, as well as strategies that could counteract this fear of bridges.
Gephirophobia: fear of bridges
In Greek, the word gefura (γέφῡρᾰ) means “bridge” and “fobos” (φόβος) means fear. Hence, the term “gefirophobia” is used to designate the fear of bridges. As with phobias described by psychopathology, to be considered in this way it must be a fear that is considered irrational, because it causes a clinically significant discomfort that cannot be justified by the cultural codes where it occurs.
In other words, gephrophobia is the irrational fear of bridges, which is irrational because it occurs in contexts where bridges are objects of everyday use and do not have a quality in themselves that potentially signifies some kind of risk. For the same reason, they are architectural structures that do not usually cause fear to those who cross them on a daily basis.
As a fear that causes clinically significant discomfort, phobias can be a major obstacle to performing the most everyday and seemingly simple activities. In the case of gephrophobia, it can happen that the person avoids at all costs the routes that involve crossing bridges , especially when it is necessary to cross large bridges by car.
Otherwise, that is, when exposed to a situation where it is necessary to cross a bridge, the person may experience the typical manifestations of specific phobias. These include the spectrum of physiological responses characteristic of anxiety: dizziness, agitation, hyperventilation, rapid heart rate, and even panic attacks.
Gephirophobia is characterized by ideas or thoughts about different scenarios associated with the fall from or from bridges , which generates fear.
Such thoughts may be due to a previous experience of danger associated with a bridge; or they may be related to having witnessed a high-risk incident related to it, either in person or indirectly through the press, film or other media. But not necessarily, in fact, can it be a fear that apparently is not related to any previous experience in the subject’s life.
In general, the fear of bridges is explained by elements such as the following:
- Fear that a part of the bridge will come loose .
- Fear that a gust of wind will blow across the bridge and move the cars intensely.
- Doubt about the structural integrity of the bridge.
- Fear that the bridge will collapse easily.
Relationship between gephrophobia, agoraphobia and acrophobia
According to Foderaro (2008), Dr. Michael R. Liebowitz, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and founder of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the New York Institute of Psychiatry, has explained that while the fear of flying has intensified and been recognized as an anxiety trigger, especially in the United States after 9/11, the fear of crossing bridges is much less well known and in general continues to be a stigma for those who have it .
For the same reason there are no exact numbers about the people who experience it, but the same psychiatrist says that “it is not an isolated or secluded phobia, but part of a larger group. It is more a type of phobia related to the fear of large or very open spaces.
In other words, gephrophobia is closely linked to acrophobia (fear of heights) and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces where help is lacking). In the same way, the other side of gephrophobia is the fear that some drivers have when passing through tunnels, which is closely linked to claustrophobia (fear of narrow spaces).
In fact, gephrophobia is often experienced more strongly when dealing with high bridges , compared to those that are a short distance from the ground or water.
As with other phobias, clinical psychology has different tools to work on gephrophobia. There are different strategies that vary according to the theoretical approach. For example, these strategies may be centred on favouring a modification of the thoughts that generate anxiety .
On the other hand, they may favour an approach to the bridge that is gradual and that allows the person to experience them differently. Likewise, intervention strategies can focus on exploring the meanings associated with the risk represented by the bridges and try to reinforce or modify emotional coping schemes to this risk. But not only psychology can intervene in the treatment of gephrophobia experiences.
Driver assistance equipment
Mohney (2013) tells us that the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan, USA (one of the largest suspension bridges in the world), has proved both a tourist attraction and an imposing urban structure, which easily causes fear to many drivers.
Until 2013, between 1200 and 1400 calls were received each day by the Michigan Driver Assistance Program, who send an assistance team to accompany the drivers as they drive across the bridge . Such calls and assistance teams often intensify their activity after news of accidents related to bridge falls is reported. A similar program exists on the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, which is located more than 150 feet from the Hudson River and often causes panic among several drivers.
- Mohney, G. (2013). Motorists Can’t Face Fears, Get a Lift Across Bridge. ABC News. Retrieved August 21, 2018. Available at https://abcnews.go.com/Health/terrified-motorists-lift-bridge/story?id=19250164
- Stein, D., Hollander, E., Rothbaum, B. (2009). Textbook of Anxiety Disorders. American Psychiatric Publishing: Washington, D.C.
- Foderaro, L. (2008). To Gephyrophobia, Bridge Are a Terror. New York City. Recovered 21 August 2018. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/08/nyregion/08bridge.html