A charity is hoping to help phobia sufferers in south Wales by launching the first self-help group of its kind in the area.
Triumph Over Phobia (TOP) supports sufferers of phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and other related anxiety issues.
The charity, founded in Bath, said 10% of people in south Wales suffer from phobias and 3% have OCD.
Members said it “changed their lives” by helping them overcome their fears.
“The thoughts became more invasive to the point that I thought, ‘if I don’t do that, someone in my family will die’,” said Pamela Fox.
She suffered with OCD from the age of 17 and feared contamination from germs and dirt.
It drove her to the point where she could not touch anything on the floor – not even shoes with laces in case they had brushed along the ground.
Things would have to be wiped down and thoroughly cleaned before her “intrusive” thoughts could subside.
As part of her OCD, objects also had to be central – so she could only wear clothing with a zip down the middle and she changed her hairstyle to a mid-parting.
The 54-year-old was finally able to overcome the disorder within six months with the help of TOP in Bath.
“I tried to rationalise my OCD but it goes beyond that after a while. All you are trying to do is get rid of your anxiety. It drains you,” said Mrs Fox, who has since gone on to run the group.
“I was checking things all the time, all supposing that if I didn’t, something dreadful would happen.
“It changed my life immensely. A lot of people haven’t discussed their situation because of the stigma attached so to be able to go into a room and share it with people who have a similar mind, who understand, it’s a big step forward.”
Olivia Lawler, 21, a third-year student at Bristol University, started going to the TOP group in Bristol two years ago.
She is trying to tackle two phobias at the same time – a fear of spiders and the other of blood or injury.
Her arachnophobia would leave her “hysterical” and unable to stay at home on her own, while she would have to flee a room if someone so much as even mentioned cutting their finger.
“It was really embarrassing – it was having a really negative impact on me,” she said.
“Now I’m able to catch big house spiders on my own and put them out of the window. With blood injuries, I can now watch Casualty and Holby City [on TV].
“It’s about rationalising. It’s improved my overall confidence and given me my independence back.”
The charity now wants to launch a group in Cardiff, after receiving £5,000 funding from the city’s grant-making Waterloo Foundation.
It is searching for two volunteers to help launch the group and is encouraging people who want help in overcoming their phobia or OCD to get in touch.
Trilby Breckman, TOP UK development manager, said exposure therapy, facing their fear in a controlled way, is used alongside cognitive behaviour therapy, to help change their way of thinking.
“People think there’s no treatment and they just have to get on with it. Sometimes phobias and OCD aren’t taken very seriously,” she said.
“It can be really debilitating. But the good thing is it can easily be overcome, you just need hard work and determination.”