Thanatophobia: Fear of the Unknown

Everyone thinks about death once in a while. Yet, there are people who are preoccupied with such thoughts all the time. They suffer from thanatophobia. Pavel Ponomaryov, a psychologist and psychiatrist, and Grigory Chausovsky, an assistant professor of the department of physiology at Zaporozhye national university, talked to about this rare neurotic symptom and methods of treatment.

“Everyone is afraid of death, but those suffering from thanatophobia are afraid of the unknown, “ Ponomaryov explains.

“Usually, fear is experienced when there is a threat to an individual’s life, it is directed at the source of perceived or actual danger, while thanatophobia appears regardless of a threat to existence, and its essence is always linked to death.”

According to Chausovsky, thanatophobia is spread among residents of metropolises. “It is significantly caused by dramatization of criminal topics by media, which forms subconscious fear of falling victim to criminals or terrorists,” he says. “Genetics also cause these fears (20%), as well as hormonal misbalance, childhood psycho-traumatic situations, etc.”

People suffering from this phobia are obsessed with this fear. They may be scared of riding the metro in the fear of death from a terrorist attack, flying on a plane to avoid crashing. They may visit doctors frequently, take tests in the fear of cancer. They suffer from insomnia, low libido, and inadequate behavior such as telling everyone about these fears. Some start drinking or doing drugs.

“At times sad thoughts about death or illness cause real diseases. Various neuroses, psychoses and psychosomatic illnesses result from emotional stress.

When people are not capable of controlling their condition and dealing with their suffering, they should seek professional help. Psychological activities will help to find sense in life through accepting death. Sooner or later everyone has to deal with the issue of death. Some can cope on their own, some need professional help.”

During psychological activities patients do not rid of fear of death, natural for everybody, but try to develop resistance to this fear and ability to control it. Patients have a chance to see new live goals and values, develop new realistic look at life and change their relations with society.

For example, often fear of death develops when a close person dies. “There are different ways of working with this issue. It can be treated as a psychological trauma or dependence on that close person.”

However, psychotherapy is not always suitable:

“We have to remember that thanatophobia may be characteristic of mentally ill people whose obsessive ideas are somehow linked to the main illness. In this case, these people cannot be involved in psychotherapy, they require psychiatric treatment.”

Another method of treating thanatophobia, according to Grigory Chausovsky, is developing patients’ confidence that in case of a threat to life they can always give a signal. Special cell phones with SOS button were developed in Russia and other countries. When the button is pushed, law enforcement agencies immediately receive a signal and the caller’s location. The phone is designed in a way it can be hidden under the clothes on a special belt for the situations when pushing the button with a hand is impossible. If the phone owner makes a deep breath, the belt stretches and the button is automatically activated.

Despite the obvious convenience of the invention, it will not rid patients from thanatophobia completely. If you noticed that you are experiencing “fear of death,” you should consult a doctor.

Irina Shlionskaya 

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov