As the old saying goes, the only real certainty in life is that one day you will die, but whilst most of us do not dwell unnecessarily on our impending death, apart from to hope that it is not any time soon, some people develop an irrational phobia about death and spend their days consumed with a fear of dying. So, what is a fear of death phobia and is it curable?
A fear of death phobia is called thanatophobia, and it is more common than you might expect. Thanatophobia is closely related to necrophobia, derived from the Greek word for corpse (nekros). As a fear of dying, a person with necrophobia also develops a fear of everything associated with death, including coffins, graveyards, funerals etc.
Where does a fear of dying come from?
It is not unusual to be a little afraid of dying—after all, depending on your particular religion, none of us knows what happens after death, which makes the thought of death a scary notion. However, a person with a fear of death phobia becomes so preoccupied with the thought of death or dying that the phobia takes over their life.
For many people, their fear of death phobia is closely and inextricably linked to their religion. The phobia can sometimes develop as a result of some kind of crisis of faith, perhaps because the person feels they have deviated off the righteous path and are heading straight to Hell as a result.
For others, a fear of dying is more closely linked to the circumstances surrounding death after seeing a loved one suffer a long and protracted death as a result of illness. Consequently, person will become obsessed with the notion of ending up the same way and suffering the same pain and loss of dignity in death.
A fear of dying can also be connected to a fear of losing control—after all, when and how we die is very much out of our control, unless we choose to end our life at our own hand. Such a fear can often lead to associated conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder.
Fear of death can be connected to a fear of the unknown and highly intelligent people are much given to a philosophical questioning of their imminent demise, particularly if they have strong religious beliefs.
Some people become morbidly afraid of dying, not because of how it will affect them, but because of the people they will inevitably leave behind after their death: thanatophobia is quite common in new parents and those with responsibilities caring for elderly relatives or children.
Can thanatophobia be treated?
Thanatophobia is not an easy one to live with as it can lurk at the back of the mind during every waking moment and is often worse at night when the sufferer is not distracted by other things. But like any phobia, thanatophobia is treatable if you feel that you cannot cope with the effects of your fear of dying phobia any longer. Treatment of the phobia will vary between different individuals, but would normally include cognitive behavioural therapy, talking therapies, and possibly hypnosis.