1. Thanatophobia (terror of death) is a hidden epidemic in a society that is uncomfortable talking about mortality. When a thing is hidden, it often carries shame. Shame breeds silence. We need to talk about it.
2. The majority of Thanataphobics are terrified of not existing. Others are afraid of existing in a punitive afterlife. It was the former for me. Even a bad afterlife would have been a life of sorts, but to be a conscious speck of dust for a nano second, to then disappear for all eternity, seemed like an obscenity to my young mind. This cosmic joke was too dark for even me.
3. Many Thantaphobics will look like hypochondriacs on the surface of things. Every new lump has a skull and cross bones on it. Much of what we perceive as hypochondria is likely to be a symptom of death anxiety. For Thanataphobics, terror of death dominates their lives and inhibits their ability to live fully; they are constantly preoccupied with their future death, and the deaths of those around them.
4. Currently, there is limited professional help for people living with Thanataphobia. Many receive anxiety medication, a few manage to get some therapy, usually in the form of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) to try and tame their repetitive thought patterns. Psychotherapists generally don’t like to wade into these existential issues too much, usually seeing death anxiety as a symptom of something else (which it can be). Doctors and therapists can also be afraid of igniting their own fears around mortality. Existential therapy which helps some, is still not widely available, and is founded on atheistic beliefs, so doesn’t suit everyone.
5. Developing a curiosity around this mystery we call death, I believe, is the best way forwards, but one must be prepared for a lifetime’s work. A little anxiety around our own mortality is completely normal. It is however possible to overcome extreme death terror, as I did, and in time, a Thanataphobic may even come to see the journey of recovery as an incredible gift, as I do now.
About Caroline Dent
Caroline suffered from Thanataphobia from early childhood, which led her on a journey of deep enquiry into the nature of death. She tries to encourage others by sharing her own journey of recovery, and is aiming to start a Death cafe exclusively for those suffering from Thanataphobia.
Caroline trained as an End of Life Doula through Living Well Dying Well. She’s a passionate ‘death conversationalist’ and hosts a monthly Death Cafe in North London. You can read more about her journey through Thanataphobia here.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org