Thanatophobia is a psychological condition of extreme fear from death or dying process. It is a form of normal anxiety. However, the American Psychiatric Association has not officially recognized thanatophobia as a disorder.
The origin of the word Thanatophobia traces back to the Greek mythology where the personification of death is termed as “Thanatos.”
There is no specific known cause of Thanatophobia but various traumatic events lead to the development of this psychological condition that includes the death of loved ones, religious fanaticism, and trauma faced during childhood. Here are some most prominent factors:
Fear caused by religion
In many cases, religious beliefs drive the fear of death, especially if they are passing through a phase of questioning. These people think about the after-death life such as the concept of hell, heaven, torture, and spirit that deviate from their psychological stability and results in phobia to death. The diverse religious beliefs related to death are highly personalized making the condition difficult for the therapist or psychiatrist to comprehend the patient’s belief.
Fear of Losing Control
People having Thanatophobia in the context of losing control often develop other associated disorders like hypochondriasis, Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD) and even delusional thinking/imagination. Death is an attribute that is completely out of will or control of a person. In this case, the person tries to avoid or fight death through extreme health checkups and other rituals.
Fear of Unknown
It is human nature to explore and understand the world around them. In this process, the existence of some unknown fear can cause this phobia. It involves the questioning process related to death, life, philosophy and supernatural entities that triggers this fear in the person.
Fear of Factors Commonly Associated with Death
Many people suffering from fear of death are not actually afraid of death, but of various ways and circumstances causing death or act of dying like debilitating illness, crippling pain, or loss of dignity. This condition of phobia is easily identified by asking careful questions to the person about several factors and aspects of fear. Hypochondriasis, nosophobia and other various somatoform disorders may develop due to this phobia.
Fear of Concern about Relatives
An individual with this condition is generally not afraid of death, but worries about the circumstances faced by the family and loved ones after his death. This phobia is very common in new parents, single parents, and caregivers as they feel worried as what would happen after their death, how their close ones will survive or how will they face situations like financial setback etc.
Thanatophobia in children
The fear of death in children is normal but it takes the shape of phobia in the severe case. Children don’t understand religious beliefs and phenomena of death, therefore, they find it difficult to accept the concept of time, death and rebirth. These factors often make children develop terrifying and dreadful concepts related to the death. However, Thanatophobia depends on the severity and signs present in the child and they need diagnosis if phobia persists for more than 6 months.
- Age: People within the age group of 20-30 have higher chances of death anxiety.
- Gender: Thanatophobia can happen to both men and women but the latter experiences a secondary spike after crossing the age of 50.
- Humility: People with less humble nature are more likely to worry about their death. Insensitive persons are also at higher risk.
- Health issues: Physical and mental health is also one major factor in causing this phobia.
Thanatophobia is not so common because its sufferers face a lot of problems in their daily lives. Some people are so anxious about the concept of death that they tend to develop adamant behavior to not leave home or to show unreasonable ignorance when ‘death’ is mentioned in any topic. Hypochondriasis and Obsessive-compulsive disorder are associated with conditions that may occur during Thanatophobia.
- Frequent panic attacks
- Increased anxiety
- Stomach pain
- Anger, sadness, and agitation
- Irregular heartbeats/heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty in concentration and focus
- Feel fear while attending any funeral
This phobia disturbs the mundane life of an individual by overpowering the feelings, emotions, and acts. Anxiety episodes and Thanatophobic panic attacks make an individual uncontrollable, no matter how much one is reassured by others. The ignorant behavior and constant worrying affect the physical and mental health of a person by letting him/her falling into the cycle of depression and fear.
Thanatophobia is a clinically non-recognizable condition as there are no tests available for this anxiety. Diagnosis is commonly carried out by trained mental health experts. The specialists ask guided questions to the person and try to figure out the exact problem. The observable symptoms give the clue of thanatophobia to the doctor.
There is no specific medication, surgery or treatment for thanatophobia. Available medicines only reduce the depression and anxiety. Here are some listed methods used to treat this phobia:
- Relaxation Therapy: The therapist demonstrates several relaxation exercises during a panic attack episode. Meditation, breathing exercises, muscle release exercises and mind visualization exercises involve relaxation technique.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy: This therapy is helpful for all psychological and personality disorder. CBT involves the process of implanting positive thoughts in place of phobia or fearful images. The therapist convinces the patient to be aware of real, non-real, positivity and fearlessness.
- Counseling: Counseling by the experts help them in the treatment. The religious counseling is a huge aspect to take care of. In many cases, this phobia occurs due to false beliefs regarding death and the afterlife.
- Support groups: The self-help groups are full of people who have the same phobia. They share their struggle stories, overcoming the situation, and other experiences. Therefore, joining support groups helps in reducing phobia and changes the pattern of thinking.
The irrational fear of death in patients gradually comes to an end if proper therapy applies. Therefore, the prognosis of thanatophobia remains generally positive. The treatment of this phobia is successful in most of the cases.
Fears related to Thanatophobia
A thanatophobic person may exhibit fear of tombstones, symbols of death, funeral homes, funeral ghats, etc. because this reminds them of their phobia. People suffering from this condition where the religious factor is dominant experience the fear of ghosts, supernatural entities or imagination of hell or heaven.