Anxiety and the Fear of Death

Fear of death is sometimes referred to as”thanatophobia” deriving from the Ancient Greek words “Thanatos,” the name of the god of death, and “phobos,” meaning “fear.” This rarely spoken-about anxiety has the potential to seriously affect people’s lifestyles and emotional health.

The fear of death is one of our oldest fears. It stems largely from the fact that nobody is  sure what’s “on the other side.” In some instances, the fear of death is even worse when someone is suffering from a terminal illness and they are aware that their time is almost up. This feeling, sometimes referred to as “death anxiety” is often accompanied by bouts of depression and a number of problems connected to their interpersonal relationships.  “Death anxiety” can manifest itself as a problem for the people around the dying, though some psychological side effects have also been observed. For some the anxiety about death may actually create the fear of death on its  own. Some make anxiety disorders worse or more common, and some are completely independent – the fear of death may be a phobia itself, and not the result of an anxiety symptom.

For the most part, the anxiety is largely ignored in favor of either prolonging the patient’s life, or making their last days as comfortable and painless as possible. For most medical professionals, the physical aspect of death is far simpler to deal with than the emotional and psychological facets of it. However recently, more and more people are starting to pay attention to the problems posed by “death anxiety” and the measures that could be taken to help reduce the emotional pain of those involved. Inevitably, this includes both the dying patient himself and the people around him, who would have to deal with the emotional reckoning even after the patient has passed away.

Depression that a person feels because of “death anxiety” is no easier to deal with than regular depression would be. In fact, since the inevitability of death is looming over the horizon, it is quite possible that the problem would actually be worse than normal. This is true for both the patient and the patient’s loved ones, who would have to also deal with the grim reality that someone they care about is going to die. When taken into context, the depression could easily be seen as something that is compounding even beyond death, such that a problem that only seriously affected the patient “infects” the people the patient left behind.

Death Anxiety Treatment

At present, specialists tend to recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to people who face severe death anxiety. CBT is based on discussions and exposure, and it is often used to treat depression and many different kinds of anxiety and phobias, such as the fear of flying.

Recent findings show that support groups were often good for helping people emotionally prepare for death. This is for  patients and their families, who all might need just a little extra help to cope with the arrival of death. Others find it helpful to be exposed to others who are suffering, or have suffered through, the same problems. Most psychologists believe that being exposed to others that feel the same pressures and problems can be instrumental in helping someone cope with both the loss of a loved one and the potential psychological damage that a terminal illness can do.

Standard support materials, such as magazines, pamphlets, and the like, are in circulation among the terminally ill. Most mental health experts note that these do have an observable positive effect on a person’s overall mood during periods of “death anxiety,” but they often are not sufficient to keep someone from sinking into depression. These can be helpful and are usually found readily in the offices of doctors and specialists who regularly deal with this sort of problem, however.