SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - It is not easy being a vampire, and even harder to come out of the coffin to a physician or therapist for fear they will misinterpret the habit of ingesting the blood of willing donors or succumb to stereotyping, a study finds.

Research led by D.J. Williams, director of social work at Idaho State University, indicated that people who identify themselves as “real” vampires – that is, needing others’ blood to gain energy – would not disclose their practices to those in the helping professions and risk reactions like ridicule, disgust and possible diagnosis of a mental illness.

The paper, published in the latest issue of Critical Social Work, a peer-reviewed journal based in Canada, found that authentic vampires as opposed to “lifestyle” vampires – black-clad figures with phony fangs – might be stereotyped by clinicians whose fields discourage biases.

Williams, who has studied self-identified vampires for nearly a decade, finds they come from every walk of life and profession, including doctors, attorneys and candlestick makers.

“They are successful, ordinary people,” he said.

Except they are very, very tired. That’s apparently the chief reason they find a consenting adult willing to allow them to use a scalpel to make a tiny incision in the chest area so they can ingest a small amount of blood for energy, the study found.

Williams and another researcher based the paper on the responses of 11 people who had identified themselves as vampires for many years and could be relied on to be open and honest, and who gain permission from practicing adults before ingesting their blood, he said.

“The real vampire community seems to be a conscientious and ethical one,” Williams said.

The challenge is finding non-judgmental clinicians to whom vampires can disclose their alternative lifestyles, he added.

“Most vampires believe they were born that way; they don’t choose this,” Williams said.

The global vampire population is thought to number in the thousands, he said.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Leslie Adler)