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What is Bathophobia?

written by: Rene Wolf • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 11/13/2010

Bathophobia is the irrational fear of depths. The cause is not often known, however the symptoms and treatments resemble those associated with more recognized phobias.

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    Bathophobia is an irrational and overwhelming fear of depth. The person suffering with this phobia may experience intense fear when they encounter an area with an unknown depth such as a long hallway, wells, mountain valleys and/or deep bodies of water. The person with extreme symptoms of bathophobia may become overwhelmed or extremely anxious in situations such as being near a swimming pool. The fear will often become so overwhelming that it begins to interfere with daily activities including personal relationships, employment and school.

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    Cause

    The exact cause of bathophobia, like the majority of phobias, is unknown. However, phobias are generally the result of a traumatic experience the person experienced at some point in their life, usually at an early age. With bathophobia, the individual may have had an accident that occurred near or in deep water or may have witnessed someone who drowned or nearly drowned. As the result of the “depth" of water being unknown, the person may associate the fear of depth to any place that appears deep, such as a body of water, a well or a mountain valley.

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    Symptoms

    The symptoms of bathophobia vary among each person who is suffering with this phobia. In some cases, the person will begin to feel uncomfortable, become nauseated and/or perspire, when confronted with their fear. Someone with a severe phobia may experience panic and/or anxiety attacks that can become severe. Symptoms of bathophobia can include feeling dizzy, rapid heartbeat, intense trembling, tightness of muscles, hyperventilation, breathing difficulties, a feeling of losing control, feeling trapped, a feeling of the inability to escape the situation and an intense feeling of the possibility of disaster occurring.

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    Diagnosis

    The majority of people who suffer with bathophobia recognize their fear as irrational when it begins to interfere with the functions of life on a daily basis. For example, if there is a well in front of the individual's home, they will begin to use a different route to exit the residence; parking their vehicle at the back of the property and leaving through the back door to avoid walking past the well. The person with bathophobia may discuss their symptoms with a family physician; however the physician may not recognize the symptoms as a phobia and will run a variety of tests prior to recommending the person to a mental health specialist.

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    Treatment

    The primary treatment for bathophobia is a form therapy known as exposure or desensitization therapy. When undergoing exposure therapy the person is gradually exposed to the phobia that causes their fear. The purpose of exposure therapy is through the gradual exposure the person will eventually conquer their fear.

    For example, as bathophobia is a fear of depth, the individual will gradually be introduced to a depth related trigger, such as watching a video of the ocean. When they are comfortable with this they may be driven beside a body of water or walk beside it. Eventually they may be able to physically walk in the body of water without experiencing their symptoms of fear.

    Some individuals may opt for hypnotherapy or self-help techniques to cope with the phobia. Medications may be prescribed in severe cases as a means of helping the person cope with their symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. More information regarding medications for symptoms of anxiety can found in the article, medications for OCD, MDD and anxiety.

    Support groups are also often beneficial, as the group helps the person to recognize they are not the only one with a fear or phobia. Relaxation and breathing techniques are also beneficial for some as an effective way of coping with stress, anxiety and depression associated with the phobia.

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    Reference

    Mayo Clinic: Phobias, Treatment & Drugs http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/phobias/DS00272/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

    University of Texas, Harris County Psychiatric Center: Understanding Phobias http://www.uth.tmc.edu/uth_orgs/hcpc/phobias.htm