What is Thanatophobia or Fear of Death?

The Greek word 'Thanatos' refers to the personification of death according to the Greek mythology. The word phobia is Greek means fear. Thanatophobia or fear of death is an unreasonable fear that people develop within themselves and when the fear increases then people stop leaving their homes in fear of dying.

Death is inevitable that cannot be avoided and we all are afraid to die and we all get scared if we witness or encounter any deadly incident. Even though we all fear death, we usually do not allow that fear to affect our daily lives. But some people become so afraid of death that they cannot think anything other that it. They apply all measures to protect themselves and enter into a psychological disorder and then depression. This state where you are always afraid of dying is known as thanatophobia or fear of death. Thanatophobia or fear or death is not the same as necrophobia which is to be afraid of dead objects.

What is Thanatophobia or Fear of Death?

Thanatophobia or Fear of Death in Children

Children are not well accustomed to the various religious beliefs or defence mechanisms. They also cannot follow the time concept and that people who are leaving will also come back. This might lead to fear within them that they relate to death. Not always can this be considered as phobia. If the fear continues for at least 6 months then it is considered as thanatophobia or fear of death in children and it should be treated accordingly.

Causes of Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

There are no exact causes of thanatophobia or fear of death like all other kinds of phobia. The thanatophobia or fear of death may grow within you due to witnessing death of a close one or due to religious beliefs or even being under the phobia of other things. A few of the probable causes of developing thanatophobia or fear of death are:

  1. Thanatophobia or Fear of Death Can be Caused by Religion

    Certain religious beliefs can create the fear within the patient. He or she might think that the way to salvation is very hard and any single mistake might condemn him or her. These people develop the fear of afterlife and thus become affected by thanatophobia or fear of death. To treat these kinds of patients it would be easier if the counsellor or the psychiatrist belongs to the same faith then the doctor can bring down the fear in the patient. Even religious leaders can offer to help as long as the clinical treatment goes on in the correct way.

  2. Thanatophobia or Fear of Death Caused by the Fear of the Unknown

    Thanatophobia or fear of death can also take control of the person who is afraid of the unknown. We all are aware of the things around us but the unknown parts of the world or the unknown part after life can create the fear in someone. Philosophical and religious beliefs may make you afraid of the unknown afterlife and the place you shall be sent to after death. To treat this cause, groups should be formed of similar individuals and then question the beliefs to get rid of the fear.

  3. Fear of Losing Control Can Cause Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

    Like knowledge has control over life and things, death is another impact on life which cannot be controlled by people. Thus people who are suffering from thanatophobia or fear of death may think that they would lose control as they die and thus they avoid death by going for rigorous check-ups and also gain an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). People even start thinking delusional at this stage. Such stage of thanatophobia or fear of death require psychiatrist to make them believe that death is inevitable and not in their wilful control.

  4. Fear of Factors Commonly Associated With Death Can Cause Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

    All people are afraid of dying but certain people are afraid of the common facts might cause death. These kinds of people are scared of any kind of situation like a long illness, terrible pain of losing dignity. People with thanatophobia or fear of death also develop other phobias like nosophobia and somatoform disorders. Such people should be asked to question their reasons of fear so that they gain the clarity and lose the fear.

  5. Fear Attributed to Concern About Relatives

    If someone witnesses a death of a close one then the person may become susceptible to thanatophobia or fear of death. Worries about families or difficult situation may also make people thanatophobic thinking that their family would become helpless if he or she passes away.

  6. A Traumatic Experience Can Cause Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

    Any traumatic experience can lead to thanatophobia or fear of death in a person. If a person undergoes a violent activity or a near death situation then the fear gets triggered in the person. Occurrences like grave illnesses, abuses and shocks makes a thanatophobic at times.

    Undergoing certain extremely near death or traumatic situation could trigger the fear or death in you and turn you thanatophobic. Being a witness to a similar incident could also be a reason for being thanatophobic.

Signs and Symptoms of Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

The signs and symptoms of thanatophobia or fear of death are like any other kind of phobia. The usual symptoms are:

  • The irritating fear of death with is irrelevant but people cannot control and think of dying.
  • Fear of afterlife and fear of the unknown which can be connected to events of burial and cremation.
  • Fearing that one might die when falling sick or being sick for a long time. The sickness can look like a threat to life even when it is not a deadly disease.
  • Stressful situations might lead to the thought of death and this is a symptom of thanatophobia or fear of death.
  • Children often get clingy towards elderly people.
  • People choose to remain at home to be safe. They start avoiding all kinds of human contact or contact with the outside world.
  • Getting delusional and not being able to separate the unreal from the real.
  • Physical symptoms of thanatophobia or fear of death are panic attacks, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath.

If the person is is suffering from thanatophobia or fear of death, the common thing you will notice in him or her is that he or she shuts himself or herself from the world. If the person carries on this avoiding behaviour for more than 6 months, the person should be taken to the doctors for help.

Risk Factors for Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

The factors which are mentioned below can increase the risk of thanatophobia or fear of death in the patient and cause harmful effects; the facts are:

  • The age of a person is a risk factor for thanatophobia or fear of death. All kinds of phobias start arising within you from the age of 13 but thanatophobia or fear of death can build within you from the age of 10.
  • You can adopt thanatophobia or fear of death if any of your family members has it. Also the faith or philosophy you adopt from your family amy lead to the fear of death.
  • Your temperament is a risk factor for thanatophobia or fear of death. Your nature may develop the phobia in you like if you think more negative things than the normal people.
  • A traumatic event in your life is a factor of risk for thanatophobia or fear of death. Being a witness to a shocking incident or undergoing a huge shock may develop the fear in you.

Complications in Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

The thanatophobia or fear of death may seem stupid to common people but the patient maybe undergoing severe complications and facing problems like:

  • Social isolation. The person becomes socially isolated. He or she loses contacts with all his or her known people. Then the patient chooses to shut himself or herself from the outside world as he or she enters into a delusional state.
  • Clinical depression is a complication in thanatophobia or fear of death. Anxiety disorders and clinical depression may occur to you as you develop the fear within yourself.
  • Substance abuse can be a complication. The thanatophobia or fear of death creates a stress in you that can lead to substance abuse.
  • The fear might instigate you to attempt a suicide to get rid of the psychological pain that you are undergoing.

Tests to Diagnose Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

Many disorders like depression, ADHD and bipolar disorders are connected to the thanatophobia or fear of death. Also illnesses like migraines, strokes, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease are related to thanatophobia or fear of death. The thanatophobia or fear of death hence needs to be diagnosed correctly. The diagnosis works best when the phobia is realised by the patient himself or herself. After noticing certain changes in his or her routine if the patient chooses to consult a doctor then the treatment gets easier.

Thanatophobia or fear of death can then be identified by the professionals. Once the doctor rules out the physical symptoms, you shall get referred to a proper mental health professional. All the possible factors shall then be checked and the patient has to answer several questions to figure out the phobia and confirm it. Then the immediate and the best treatment shall be suggested. If the patient realises that he or she is afraid to leave home or is becoming socially isolated fearing to harm himself or herself, then that the indication when he or she must choose to visit a doctor.

Treatment for Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

Various kinds of psychotherapies can be adopted by the mental health practitioners to treat the patient with thanatophobia or fear of death. Some of them are:

  1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for Treating Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

    One of the most effective therapies is the CBT or Cognitive Behavioural therapy. In this therapy for thanatophobia or fear of death the doctor tries to identify the reason of the fear which is causing the distress in the patient. Several ways are then suggested and made to practise so that the patient can calm down. The basic idea is to replace the fearful image in the mind with a soothing imagery.

  2. Relaxation Techniques for Treating Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

    Various relaxation techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, muscles release exercises for thanatophobia or fear of death are suggested by the doctor to treat the panic attacks whenever the fear gets triggered in you. Showing a picture related to death and then another picture of calmness can also help you to calm your nerves.

  3. Another Way to Treat Thanatophobia or Fear of Death is by Religious Counselling

    Religious counselling can be helpful if the person who is a sufferer of thanatophobia or fear of death and has developed the fear due to his or her religious beliefs. The phobia can be controlled by the person once he or she learns that the philosophies he or she followed are baseless. Religious knowledge helps calming down the person when supervised by a medical practitioner.

  4. Medications for Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

    Several anti-anxiety pills are suggested by the doctors to calm down your nerves to prevent a panic attack in thanatophobia or fear of death.

  5. Support Groups for Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

    A support group can be highly helpful in treating thanatophobia or fear of death. As the person shall meet more people who have the similar fear he or she will learn to relax. Listening to their stories and experience might bring down the fear in the person.

Prevention of Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

The thanatophobia or fear of death might lead to serious consequences if not treated on time. As soon as you notice certain disorders in yourself or in some one who is close to you, consult a doctor immediately to prevent the phonia from getting worse. The near ones should be alert about the patient and be by his/her side which shall help the patient recover soon.

Prognosis/Outlook for Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

Thanatophobic patients usually recover from their fear and thus the reports are mostly positive. If diagnosed timely and treated correctly, one shall get the ability to overcome the thanatophobia or fear of death.

Coping with Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

Coping with thanatophobia or fear of death is not very easy as sometimes you might have to give up your faith and beliefs. Being in a therapy can help you gain clarity. Going with the flow and taking exposure therapies can also help you to get better.

The habit of questioning old philosophical beliefs might help you cope with thanatophobia or fear of death and gain a clear vision and lose the thanatophobia or fear of death. Interacting with people can also be helpful. Meeting people who are facing the same difficulties and discussing the problems can also help you reach to a solution.

One has to accept the fact that death cannot be avoided. Facing situations daily can help one to overcome the fear. One should learn to question beliefs before applying them to his or her daily life.

Recovery Period/Healing Time for Thanatophobia or Fear of Death

The doctors can help you learn if thanatophobia or fear of death can manifest in you again after you are treated for it. The clinical treatment that you are undergoing will also tell the recovery period/healing time that you shall need to get fine. Also the stage that you are in may decide the time of the therapies which can extend from months to years.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: October 5, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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