Needle Phobia: Why Taking It Seriously Is So Serious

Trigger Warning: needles, anxiety

For a lot of people, getting shots is a normal part of childhood. If you grew up getting flu vaccines, MMR shots, and other immunizations, chances are that you didn’t enjoy the experience. Almost everyone I know disliked getting injections to one degree or another, but this experience was always different for me, as well as a few others I know. Trypanophobia–the severe fear of needles–is something that is very real, and needs to be taken seriously.

About a month ago, the Washington Post put out an article discussing what the fear of needles is like for some people. This was also posted to their Instagram account, and the comment section was flooded: “Oh please” “grow up” and even “2020 Tiny Violin Award goes to…this guy!” Given, there was the occasional reminder to take mental health seriously thrown in, but an overwhelming majority of the comments were people belittling trypanophobia and acting as if anyone who suffers from it is weak and childlike. It was hard to read through this knowing how hard getting shots is for some people (including me). After seeing this, I want to make one thing abundantly clear.

Trypanophobia is not the same thing as disliking shots.

Trypanophobia is not getting a little nervous when you have to get a flu vaccine every year, it’s your doctor advising you not to get the flu vaccine at all because the mental toll it will have on your health isn’t worth the benefit. Having this phobia is not being a tad bit anxious when you get an injection, it’s struggling to write this out because thinking about having to get an injection in the first place is making your hands shake and your stomach hurt. Suffering from trypanophobia is not being slightly scared when you have to get a shot, it’s having a panic attack, having to be held down by multiple people when you get a shot, and then trying to block that memory because of how horrifying it was.

The thing with this, too, is that it ends up being cyclical. Having a bad incident with a shot can sometimes lead to the phobia in the first place, so then going back to the doctor when you need another one can be terrifying. After that, you have a bad memory in your mind, and the fear often continues to grow with each encounter.

My experience with this fear has gotten worse recently, for primarily one reason. In the past, avoiding having to confront needles and injections was fairly easy, with it only truly coming up maybe once or twice a year at the doctors’ office or during flu season. With the vaccine being recently released, however, we are now bombarded with pictures and stories of needles constantly. One thing I hadn’t even thought about until it happened was this: I keep up with the news regularly, mostly just to stay informed on current events. Now, every time I turn on the TV to watch the news, I so, so often see a constant stream of images of needles in people’s arms, of vaccines being prepared, and videos of person after person being given the vaccine. It may seem miniscule and silly to some, but to me, it’s a real and frightening thing to have to view. This situation is precisely what trigger warnings are for! Trigger warnings, to put it shortly, are small notices, usually before a video or piece of text, that warn of something phobia-, trigger-, or panic-inducing to the viewer. You may have noticed one at the beginning of this article! It’s a small and easy thing to do that does more good than anything else–this could really help with the fear that surrounds pictures and videos of the vaccine.

The development of the vaccine has unsettled me  in a different way, too. One thing that I feel people often get confused about is that if you have trypanophobia, you are automatically anti-vax. This is absolutely not true, and for me is in fact one of the hardest parts of suffering from trypanophobia. I know that the vaccines I need to get are good for me–I know that they could possibly save my life some day, and yet I can’t stop myself from being petrified of them. Once it becomes available to those under 18, I want to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as I can, but it won’t be without a hearty amount of anxiety, panic, and fear.

All in all, I want people to understand that having trypanophobia is a serious thing that should absolutely not be minimized or made fun of. It’s certainly not enjoyable, and isn’t something to be romanticized either. If you want to help out people suffering from trypanophobia a little bit, try putting a trigger/content warning on your work if you make something discussing needles, injections, or vaccines. It’s a small thing that can help make someone’s day just a tad better.

Be kind, and remember to never make someone else feel crazy for having a serious phobia of something, no matter how ridiculous it might seem to you.