Even looking at a spider causes the woman to shudder. But because she lives in a new apartment, she has practically zero contact with them. She can go about her daily life without problems.

Is she neurotic? Probably. Does she need therapy? As long as she doesn’t feel burdened by her fear, no. Most people show some abnormality. Whether they should be treated for it is another thing.

The public’s commonly held definition of neurosis is now disputed by experts. Psychiatrists used to differentiate between behavioural problems and mental disturbances, but now only speak of mental disorders, says Isabella Heuser, from the Charite hospital in Berlin, Germany.

However, the general idea of neurosis still applies, explains Henning Schauenburg, a psychoanalyst in Heidelberg. Just because someone has a disturbance – for example, fear of spiders – doesn’t meant that they necessarily require treatment. “About 30% of people fulfil the criteria for being diagnosed with a mental disorder, but far from all of them require treatment,” he explains.

On the other hand, there are symptoms that are hard to place under the current criteria that nonetheless affect a patient’s day-to-day life. It’s the patient’s burden of suffering that helps determine whether therapy is necessary, something patients and their doctors or therapists decide upon together.

Professional help is a good idea for someone who is having trouble getting along in day-to-day life. A good place to start for people considering therapy is either to visit a general practitioner or go straight to a psychologist.

Displaying a little sensitivity is in and of itself not a bad sign. In psychology, this personality trait is just called neuroticism. “Neuroticism indicates how sensitively people react to stress,” explains Eva Asselmann, a psychology post doc in Berlin. “If you’re high on the scale, you’re considered sensitive: nervous, anxious.”

But while such a diagnosis means a heightened risk for depression and anxiety disorders, it doesn’t mean someone is necessarily going to develop a mental disorder. “Even someone high on the scale can, in principle, be healthy,” says Asselmann.

A high ranking could even be an advantage, adds Heuser: Such people most often have strong social skills – the ability to feel empathy, for example.

Regardless of whether someone is considered sensitive or not, they can take steps to make sure that they don’t suffer a mental crisis, for example by learning stress-management techniques, says Asselmann. Relaxation techniques and meditation exercises are also options. – dpa