Thanatophobia: The Fear of Death

Thanatophobia The Fear of Death

Often we hear people say that death is inevitable, and this is very true indeed. While we were younger, we learnt that all life processes inevitably end in one place- death.

Although death is normal, many don’t want to ever think of the possibility. While some are conscious of the fact that someday they will die, others have irrational fears about it, and this irrational phobia is known as thanatophobia.

Thanatophobia is the fear of death or the fear of someone dying. Although most people think of death from time to time, people have thanatophobia think of death almost every other minute.

It is natural to worry about your health as you age, however, when you begin to worry about the process of dying or what happens after you are dead, although you are perfectly healthy, then you have thanatophobia.

The American Psychiatric Association(APA) recognizes thanatophobia as a common situation; however, they don’t consider this disorder as a mental condition. Instead, they think that this condition is simply related to an influx of excess anxiety.

Causes of Thanatophobia

Although the exact causes of thanatophobia are not known, however, experts have attributed the sources of this phobia to the following factors;


Just like other phobias, one of the factors that are said to cause thanatophobia is genetics. Just like other numerous phobias, if you have any family member who has had any mental disorder or anxiety phobias, then you may likely develop thanatophobia.

It is important to note that although your family member had developed a particular phobia example autophobia in the past, it doesn’t mean that you will necessarily develop the same kind of anxiety disorder that he/she had.

Once you are genetically predisposed on developing an anxiety disorder(in this case, thanatophobia), all that is needed for you to start expressing the symptoms of this disorder is a trigger(otherwise known as environmental factors).

Environmental factors

After becoming genetically predisposed to developing thanatophobia, any external cause such as; the trauma of losing a loved one to death, having someone or a pet die can trigger the development of thanatophobia.


Religion has been seen to play a massive role in sharpening our lives as well as our minds. According to research, it has been observed that one of the sources of the fear of death that many people experience can be traced directly to their religion.

Statistics show that about 80% of people who have thanatophobia complain that the result of their fear stems from their beliefs.

Most of the religions preach of life after death. Some people think they have an idea of what is going to happen after death; however, they still fear that they might find out that they are wrong.

Some people believe that the path that leads to salvation is very narrow, and as such, any mistake can result in them having eternal condemnation; this is their fear.

It is important to note that beliefs are highly personalized, and it is not always compulsory for the therapist to understand the beliefs of his clients. However, they are of the same religion.

Once a therapist establishes that the fear of death(thanatophobia) is directly linked to religion, he or she might require the patient to seek a form of counselling session with his/her spiritual guardian.

This form of counselling is known as supplemental counselling. It is vital to note that supplemental treatments should not be replaced with the usual traditional medical counselling which can be offered by medical professionals to the patient.

Possible reasons why people develop thanatophobia

A person can develop Thanatophobia due to the following reasons;

Fear of the unknown

One of the possible reasons why people develop thanatophobia is the fear of the unknown. Humans are naturally curious, and it is only a normal thing for people to want to understand what is happening around them as well as want to know what the future holds.

Although according to some people, what happens in life is relatively predictable, however, no one knows what happens after death. This fear of not knowing what can happen after death can lead to the development of thanatophobia.

Fear of losing control

Every human wants to have a certain sense of control over what happens to them individually as well as what happens to their family and within their environment. However, it is impossible to have control over everything.

One thing you as a person can’t control is death. No one knows when he or she is going to die or how death would come. As such, the fear of not being able to control death can make a person keep trying his/her possible best to keep death at bay.

Such a person would be seen to keep putting rigorous and sometimes extreme efforts in trying to have a grip, and as such, the person can develop thanatophobia.

Fear of pain, illness and/or loss of dignity

According to psychologists and therapists, it has been discovered that those who appear to have this irrational fear of death don’t fear death; instead, they are often afraid of the numerous circumstances that are associated with death.

Quite often, people don’t die without pain. As such, those who appear to have thanatophobia are afraid of the excruciating pain, destabilizing illnesses as well as the associated loss of dignity that comes before death eventually arrives.

This type of fear often runs deep, and most times, it isn’t easily identified except through careful questioning. People who have this fear have also been seen to develop certain disorders asides thanatophobia. These phobias include illness anxiety disorder, nosophobia and some other somatoform disorders.

Fear of abandoning relatives

Thanatophobia is often seen to occur due to the intense fear of abandoning relatives and loved ones. People who are afraid to die are mostly not afraid of death itself. Instead, along with their other many worries, they are scared of leaving loved ones and relatives broken and abandoned after they die.

Fear of death in children

Children generally lack the defence and coping mechanism of losing someone, and this is why when people die(especially their loved ones), they find it difficult to comprehend and come to terms with their death.

Hence a death of a loved one can destabilize a child and muddle up their thinking. This is why for most people who have thanatophobia, they are often seen to have developed this fear from childhood.

For you to accurately diagnose a fear in children, it has to be present form 6months or more. Some children who have lost their loved one, especially a parent or sibling always find it challenging to get over their fears and pain.

Hence, the child may need to be monitored closely to look out for signs and symptoms that can depict thanatophobia.

Symptoms of Thanatophobia

Usually, a person who suffers from thanatophobia rarely shows symptoms. This is because it is not every time their symptoms will be seen. For some people who have thanatophobia, they are mostly normal; however, the situation changes immediately they think of death or losing a loved one.

The general signs to note when trying to take note of a person who has thanatophobia include;

  • Panic attacks that occur frequently
  • Increased anxiety levels
  • Dizziness
  • Uncontrollable sweating
  • Irregular heartbeats such as bradycardia or tachycardia
  • Nausea and Vomiting.
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Increased sensitivity to temperatures

In some cases, you may experience worsening situations of thanatophobia. These situations may begin to affect you emotionally and psychologically. Once this occurs, you may start to experience symptoms such as;

  • Sudden withdrawal and avoidance of friends and family members over an extended period
  • Anger and uncontrollable outbursts
  • Unexplainable sadness
  • Intense feelings of guilt
  • Uncontrollable agitation
  • Persistent worry

Risk factors associated with thanatophobia

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing this anxiety disorder. They include:


Once you are genetically predisposed to getting any anxiety or mental disorder, then you are most likely to develop thanatophobia.

Once you have family members who had previously developed an anxiety disorder such as levophobia, autophobia or any other phobia including thanatophobia, or you have a relative who has developed a mental disorder such as schizophrenia, then you are genetically predisposed to developing thanatophobia.


According to research, most individuals tend to think about death when they are in their 20s or early 30s. However, as they grow older, their thoughts on death seem to fade.


Although, both males and females tend to think about death when they are in their 20s, however, when female get to 50 years and above, they tend to experience a secondary spike of thanatophobia.

People of old age

Research has suggested that people of younger ages experience thanatophobia more often than those who are in their older ages. However, as people become older, they tend to start experiencing failing health and as such, fear the dying process.

However, more than the older ones who are experiencing the dying process, their children tend to fear death more. They are also more likely to say due to their feelings; their parents are afraid of dying. However, the reverse is the case.


People who are proud and live a fast-paced life are often more likely to worry deeply about how they would die. People who are more humble tend to be more willing to give in to the death process and are more willing to accept how they would die.

As such, they will express less anxiety and have reduced chances of developing thanatophobia.

Health issues

People with failing health and recurring death issues are more likely to experience greater levels of fear and anxiety when they think about their future. As such, they have higher chances of developing thanatophobia than those who are considered generally healthy.

Diagnosis of Thanatophobia

Since thanatophobia is not recognized as a clinical emergency, there are no physical tests available that help proves that a person has this disorder. However, through the symptoms that you keep experiencing, your doctor can quickly narrow your condition and term it anxiety.

However, having a more in-depth conversation with your doctor will help your doctor note down your fears of death and the dying process.

While some people with symptoms of anxiety won’t always experience it or may experience it for six months, others can experience these symptoms constantly for more than six months.

The longer the duration of your symptoms, the higher your chances of being diagnosed with having a phobia.

Once your doctor discovers that you are dealing with a phobia, then he may refer you to a therapist, a psychologist or a therapist for further diagnosis.

Treatment of Thanatophobia

The treatment for thanatophobia is often based on focusing on the fear and anxiety that is associated with this disorder and how to correct this disorder. In treating this phobia, your doctor will prescribe the following treatment options:

Talk therapy

Talking about your experiences with another person has been seen to provide a lot of relief and who better to talk to than your therapist? There are two types of therapy treatments that are mostly used to treat phobias. They include:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

This therapy usually involves talking about your fears. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) aims at helping people who have thanatophobia understand why they act the way they do.

CBT focuses on helping you to create solutions to your phobias instead of avoiding it. It helps you to change how you think and also help you understand that death is a normal phenomenon.

Exposure therapy

Just like the name implies, exposure therapy has to do with the process by which your therapist gradually exposes you to your fear and as such, you get used to it, and your phobia disappears.

According to research, scientists have proved that people who have thanatophobia have a high tendency to keep avoiding their fears, giving them a false sense of control over their phobias.


Meditation, as well as breathing techniques, are one of the most effective ways a person can reduce the impact of anxiety and panic attack anytime they occur.

The use of medications

Depending on how severe your fear is, your therapist may ask you to get certain medications. Some drugs such as benzodiazepine, Klonopin, Xanax, Valium, and so on may be prescribed. However, it is essential to note that these drugs can’t be used for an extended period.

This is because these drugs are very addictive, and when used in excess, these drugs have numerous side effects.

In conclusion, if you have any fears concerning death, and you are terrified that it is affecting your daily lifestyle as well as hindering your relationship with family and friends, then you should discuss with your doctor about your concerns.

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