Gephyrophobia, again

Since the I-35W bridge crossing the Mississippi collapsed here in Minneapolis last Wednesday, with (at this writing) five dead and eight missing, my gephyrophobia is back, going strong.

That’s JEFF-i-ro-FO-bee-uh. Or fear of bridges.

I never got gephyrophobic on the 1900-foot-long I-35W bridge. (Turns out I should have been, but I wasn’t.) I’d get nervous on the bridge across Lake Ponchartrain into New Orleans, which is 28,145 feet long, as my four-cylinder Toyota got buffeted but the highway wind, and I’d see the choppy surf waaaay below me.

In the wake of the disaster, ABC news dusted out the psychiatric dictionary and talked to an expert about more people suffering from gephyrophobia:

“Their fear is not that the bridge is going to collapse; their fear is that they will get halfway across and freeze or drive off the bridge,” says Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorder Association of America.

Their fear used to be that they would freeze up on the bridge; now, I think, people are going right ahead and being frightened of a bridge collapse itself.

Jerilyn went on: “A true phobia is fear of fear itself — a threat of danger that’s not really dangerous.”

Since, according to the Federal Highway Administration last year, nearly 1 out of every 8 bridges in the United States is (like the former I-35W bridge) “structurally deficient,” I guess gephyrophobia isn’t a phobia after all anymore; it’s just common sense.

What’s the treatment for gephyrophobia?

For those who have an intense fear of crossing a bridge, for example, treatment may begin with them sitting in the passenger seat of a car while crossing a very short bridge. Gradually, the intensity of the experience would be increased until the person has learned to deal with their fearful impulses.

. . . Or until one of the 73,533 of the nation’s structurally deficient bridges they are driving over collapses; whichever comes first.

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