If you've ever heard the term "agoraphobic," you might wonder what it means or if you could have agoraphobia yourself. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the word "agoraphobia" is, "abnormal fear of being helpless in a situation from which escape may be difficult or embarrassing that is characterized initially often by panic or anticipatory anxiety and finally by the avoidance of open or public places." Still, as a condition, it is a disorder that can have severe consequences. Interviews with people diagnosed with agoraphobia, which can be found online, show that agoraphobia can cause a person to struggle with completing routine daily activities, holding a job, and so on. Many people with this disorder limit their time away from their homes and experience severe anxiety related to leaving home. Some use self-soothing tools or techniques to cope, such as parking, where they can see their car when entering a public space or facility. Like most mental health conditions, agoraphobia varies in terms of severity, and there are a number of potential contributing factors that can lead to the development of the condition. The good news is that, while there's no known cure, there are treatments that can help people with agoraphobia.
What Is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes someone to fear leaving the home, being in public spaces, being in enclosed spaces, and/or leaving the home and engaging in these scenarios without someone else present. Other anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder (SAD), specific phobias, separation anxiety disorder, and selective mutism. According to the national institute of mental health or NIMH in the United States, agoraphobia affects 0.9% of the population aged 18 and older. Also according to the national institute of mental health, however, it's indicated that approximately 1.3% of those aged 18 and older will experience agoraphobia at some point in their lives. Agoraphobia isn't limited to adults and can be experienced by those under 18 as well. It's a disorder that can cause severe impairment, and it impacts sufferers in a variety of ways. A person with agoraphobia might, for example, be unable to hold a job, struggle in social situations, or find that they're unable to attend school in person. If you have agoraphobia, know that it isn't your fault. Treatment is a process, and it can be hard to make steps toward managing a mental health condition like agoraphobia, so go easy on yourself and remember that every victory is something to be proud of.
DSM-5 Criteria For Agoraphobia
The DSM, or diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, is used to diagnose individuals with a variety of mental health conditions. This is where you'll find the exact criteria for disorders such as agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, major depressive disorder (MDD), post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder, personality disorders, and more. The current DSM criteria for agoraphobia from the DSM-5 states that, to be diagnosed with agoraphobia, you must present a notable or marked sense of anxiety or fear regarding two (2) or more of the following scenarios listed:
- Utilizing public transportation methods, which might include busses, subways, streetcars, or rails
- Being in enclosed spaces (which might refer to shops, stores, auditoriums or movie theaters, classrooms, salons, restaurants, aircrafts, and so on)
- Being in open or unenclosed spaces (parks, crowds, beaches, etc.)
- Being in a crowd or standing in line with others
- Exiting the home on your own (going out alone or being alone while outside of the home)
In addition to experiencing anxiety or fear about two or more of the scenarios above, one must either experience symptoms of panic or anxiety when in said scenarios that expose one to the outside world, require accompaniment (having another person with you) to join said scenarios, or avoid the scenarios entirely. These symptoms must not be attributed to another condition, and they must interfere with a person's life. A professional who is able to diagnose mental health conditions, most commonly a psychiatrist, understands the full criteria that must be met for a diagnosis of agoraphobia. When you see a psychiatrist, they will screen you according to the full criteria present in the DSM'ss most recently updated version. To see someone for the diagnosis of agoraphobia, contact your general doctor or a psychiatrist. Your doctor will be able to give you a referral if needed, and a psychiatrist will be able to see you in either person or using telehealth platforms.
Getting Diagnosed With Agoraphobia
It can be tricky to receive a diagnosis of agoraphobia when you're afraid to enter confined spaces such as doctor's offices, but advances in healthcare have made it easier. If you're looking for a psychiatrist or general doctor who takes your insurance, contact your insurance company or search the web. There are also ways to pay out of pocket or see doctors and psychiatrists without insurance, some of which are more affordable than others. You deserve to live a full, happy life, and reaching out for a diagnosis is often the first step to receiving the assistance one needs to improve their symptoms. The diagnostic process for agoraphobia isn't at all invasive. Typically, a psychiatrist will speak with you about your symptoms (be sure to inquire about interpreters or other accessibility options if needed - diagnosis should be accessible to everyone) and will evaluate your answers before proceeding with the diagnosis. A diagnosis can be helpful for many reasons, including having documentation that'll help you receive accommodations in educational institutions, benefits (if applicable), and help from your insurance company to pay for therapy or counseling. Many physicians will say that diagnosis is largely for the insurance company as it plays a big role in getting coverage of your treatment approved. It can also give you peace in knowing that you are not "crazy" and that you do have a real, diagnosable condition.
Potential Causes Of Agoraphobia
While there's no known single cause for the development of agoraphobia, as stated above, there are a number of possible contributing factors that can lead to the development of agoraphobia. Contributing factors to the development of agoraphobia can include:
- The personal history of other anxiety disorders or mental health conditions
- Family history of agoraphobia or related conditions
- The presence of related phobias
It's important to note that someone with agoraphobia might also be diagnosed with another mental health condition and that you can be diagnosed with more than one mental health disorder or condition. Comorbidities experienced by those with agoraphobia could include depression or depressive symptoms, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex PTSD (C-PTSD), and other psychological disorders.
Treatment For Agoraphobia
Treatment for agoraphobia might include:
- Therapies such as CBT or exposure therapy
- Medication (if applicable)
- Self-care, including the implementation of proper sleep hygiene, breathing exercises, and other coping skills
For all guidance regarding treatment, please consult a licensed medical professional.
You can get help for agoraphobia by searching for a counselor or therapist who practices either online or in your personal geographical location. To do this, you may ask for a referral from your primary care provider or psychiatrist, search the web for providers near you, contact your insurance company to see who they cover, or utilize services from an online therapy company.
What Is An Agoraphobia Test?
An agoraphobia test or screener is a tool that's meant to help you determine if you relate to the symptoms of agoraphobia. As an overview, here's what online tests can and can't do.
Online tests can:
- Give you insight into your symptoms
- Teach you more about mental health conditions
- Help you put words to what you're going through or struggling with
Online tests can't:
- Serve as a replacement for diagnosis and treatment from a mental health professional
- Give you a diagnosis or act as a tool for accurate self-diagnosis
- Replace professional support in a time of crisis
When you see a professional, such as a psychiatrist, to get an evaluation for a condition like agoraphobia, they're able to consider factors such as if your symptoms could be attributed to another medical or mental health condition, if you're struggling with the specific condition you came in for or if a diagnosis for a similar condition would be more accurate, and if you fit the DSM-5 criteria for a diagnosis. An online test isn't a diagnosis, but it might be your first step to understanding what's going on with your mental health and getting the support that you need.
Where Can You Find A Free Agoraphobia Test?
Mind Diagnostics has a free agoraphobia test that you can take from the privacy of your own home. It's confidential, and you'll get your results right away. When you take the test, it'll ask you to rate how your experiences in public settings over the past seven days made you feel and what symptoms you experienced while in those situations. Once you take the test, you will move to a page prompting you to input your email address. After you input your email address, you'll get your results via email immediately. Click here to take the Mind Diagnostics agoraphobia test.