Thanatophobia is an extreme and irrational fear of death. While it would be reasonable to say that most people fear death at least somewhat, people with thanatophobia fear death to the extent that the normal operation of their lives is severely hindered. A thanatophobic may be so afraid of the prospect of death and what comes after that he or she refuses to leave home or becomes unreasonably hostile or avoidant when the subject of death comes up.
Causes of Thanatophobia
Like all phobias, there is no universally specific cause. Rather, various unique and specific traumatic events are to blame. For thanatophobia, some of these could include the death of a loved one, the instilling of a magnified fear of death through upbringing, or even religious fanaticism. Sometimes this phobia exists concomitantly with other psychological or behavioral disorders. This is why it is so important for someone who may possibly have thanatophobia to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional. If left untreated, this phobia may only become worse. The sufferer may become more reluctant to leave his or her house, drive, use public transportation, fly or any of a vast number of other activities that might be irrationally construed as dangerous or mortally threatening.
Symptoms of Thanatophobia
Like other phobias, if the sufferer begins to exhibit the following symptoms when presented with the source of fear, he or she may have a genuine phobia. Some of these symptoms are:
- Feelings of dread or panic
- Automatic or uncontrollable reactions
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme avoidance
Treatment of Thanatophobia
Treatment for the disorder is usually best left to a mental health practitioner. The goal of any such expert is to first target the initial inciting factor that caused the person’s irrational and extreme fear. The patient and therapist talk about why the fear is unfounded, how they can come to terms with any traumatic experiences that caused the phobia, as well as ways to deal with the symptoms of the condition. This type of therapy is usually very effective, with a vast majority of patients completely overcoming or successfully coping with thanatophobia symptom-free for years, if not for the remainder of their lives.
Some therapists opt to use cognitive behavioral therapy. With this type of treatment, the patient meets with the therapist and in a systematic and gradual progression confronts the source of fear while learning to control the physical and mental reactions to it. By facing the phobia head on, the patient becomes accustomed to it and thus ultimately realizes that his or her initial fears were not grounded in real or imminent danger.
There are plenty of therapists and peer groups willing to help not only with the disorder but also the psychological difficulties attendant with it. If self-help is not working, do not hesitate to reach out to these resources for support.
- American Psychiatric Association – info about phobias in general, causes, treatment.
- Wikipedia – general info regarding thantophobia including possible outcomes of the disorder.