If a person suspects that he / she or a loved one is suffering from agoraphobia, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable and to enlist the help of a professional as soon as possible.



“Agora” / (æɡərə) [GRK]) is the Greek word used for the market square or place of public gathering.

Agoraphobia is therefore the irrational fear of public or open spaces. The person fears situations where they can lose control, get trapped and / or not get help.


What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?

The following symptoms are indicative, based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5, accepted worldwide as the most authoritative source:

  1. A noticeable fear or anxiety for two or more of the following:
    1. the use of public transport (eg cars, buses, trains, ships, aircraft);
    2. to be in open spaces (eg parking areas, market squares, bridges);
    3. to be in enclosed spaces (eg in shops, theaters, movie theaters);
    4. to stand in a row or be part of a crowd; and / or
    5. to be alone outside the house.
  2. The fear or avoidance of the above situations because:
    1. the person thinks that escape may be difficult;
    2. help may not be available;
    3. he / she may panic; and / or
    4. he / she may experience other symptoms that may be embarrassing to him / her, (eg falling or losing bladder control).
  3. The above situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.
  4. The dreaded situations are actively avoided; the person longs for a companion or the situations are endured with intense fear or anxiety.
  5. The fear or anxiety is disproportionate to the real danger in the situation and the cultural context.
  6. The fear, anxiety or avoidance is ongoing and lasts for six months or longer.
  7. The fear, anxiety or avoidance causes noticeable discomfort and restriction in social, work and other important areas of functioning.
  8. Even if there is any other medical condition present, the anxiety is still extremely intense.
  9. The fear, anxiety or avoidance is not better explained by another psychological condition.
Note that an official diagnosis may only be made by a qualified person.
The person is convinced that something terrible will happen if he / she is exposed to the dreaded situation.
Did you know?
Agoraphobia can occur with or without panic attacks.

“Agora” / (æɡərə) [GRK]) is the Greek word used for the market square or place of public gathering.

Agoraphobia is thus the irrational fear of public or open spaces. The person fears situations where they may lose control, become trapped and / or not get help.


Treatment of agoraphobia

Why is it necessary to treat agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia can greatly limit one's life. It prevents you from learning and experiencing new things, meeting new people, or even performing everyday tasks because there is too much fear and discomfort associated with doing them. One with agoraphobia can become increasingly isolated, which in turn can lead to other physical and mental health problems. In extreme forms, it can prevent someone from doing their job, which can have serious financial implications. It is therefore essential to obtain the necessary professional help.

How is agoraphobia treated?

  1. Diagnosis
    An accurate diagnosis is very important. Therefore, start by requesting a complete medical examination from your GP to make sure there is no other medical explanation for your symptoms. If not, the next step is to make an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist, who can fully assess and diagnose you.
  2. Psychotherapy / psychological therapy / talk therapy
    Psychotherapy is an effective way to treat agoraphobia. In therapy, a person will learn the skills to deal with their anxiety symptoms, challenge their fears and systematically learn to deal with certain situations. If it is difficult for a person to leave the house and keep an appointment, there are therapists who will do consultations by telephone or through the electronic media. If the condition is so severe that the person cannot benefit from the above services, admission to a psychiatric hospital is an alternative option.
  3. Medication
    In many cases, medication in combination with therapy is used effectively to treat agoraphobia. For this, your psychologist will be able to refer you to a psychiatrist who will assess and consider you for prescribing medication, if necessary. It may take "try-and-hit" to get the right medication and dose that works for you. Stay in touch with your doctor and communicate any changes or side effects you may experience.
  4. Lifestyle
    As a foundation for working on agoraphobia, it is always necessary to make healthy lifestyle choices that promote mental health, e.g. regular exercise, healthy sleeping habits, balanced eating habits and time to think and relax. Rest and routine promote mental health. It usually helps to limit the use of alcohol and caffeine.


How do I support someone with agoraphobia?

It is important to remember that the person does not actively choose to be anxious / scared. The person usually knows that the anxiety / fear does not make rational sense. It does not help to mock them or reason with them. The best thing one can do is to encourage the person to get professional help, especially if the condition limits their functioning. You can also offer to accompany the person to his / her first appointment or provide transport to appointments.

It does not benefit to mock someone with agoraphobia or argue with them about their fears.

The therapeutic process may be difficult and exhausting for them. This is exactly when encouragement and support will be very valuable.



Do not give up if you do not quickly experience an improvement in your symptoms. Change takes time, especially if one is working on a deeper level. It may also take some time to work out the right medication and dosage for you. Stay in touch with your treatment team and keep your appointments consistent. It can also help you set goals for yourself to attend certain social events where you may feel challenged or exposed.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, we suggest the following options:
  1. call your GP (if available);
  2. go to your nearest hospital emergency room;
  3. call one of the following emergency numbers: SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789 or suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567; or
  4. contact Wie is ek?