Depression and Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia is a form of anxiety disorder, with 200,000 new diagnoses happening each year. Characterized by an extreme fear of vast spaces and crowds, people with agoraphobia will often isolate themselves and won’t leave their homes. In extreme, untreated cases of agoraphobia, patients won’t leave their homes for years at a time. Leaving their homes can induce severe panic symptoms and anxiety attacks, which can be debilitating. As is often the case with anxiety disorders and depression, sometimes the cause of one can trigger the other, and vice versa. But can treating the symptoms of depression cure agoraphobia? Not necessarily, but alleviating the symptoms of either condition can help patients live a life free from distressing symptoms and emotional pain.
What is agoraphobia?
When people stop going into places or participating in situations because they fear a panic attack, being trapped, and not being able to get help or escape, they have agoraphobia. About 1.3% of the U.S. adult population will be diagnosed with agoraphobia at some point in their lives. Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with agoraphobia.
People with agoraphobia often fear having a panic attack in a crowded place, such as on public transportation, in stores, or areas like churches or movie theaters. Untreated agoraphobia can severely impact a person’s quality of life. The majority of adults diagnosed with agoraphobia have significant impairment. They may stop going to work, or school and their relationships may suffer when they do not leave their home for fear of panicking in a public situation.
What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia symptoms are similar to those suffered during a panic attack, and can include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness or pain
- Rapid heart rate
- Sweating, dizziness, and shaking
- Tingling in the extremities
- Stomach pains and cramping
- Flushing or chills
- Fearing a loss of control
- Fear of dying from symptoms
People with agoraphobia will feel anxious and stressed when they think about having a panic attack in a particular place or as a result of a specific situation. They will be afraid that they won’t be able to escape and may fear embarrassment from having a panic attack. People with severe agoraphobia may convince themselves that the symptoms of a panic attack might kill them. Patients will avoid triggers and may isolate themselves in their homes, or only take fixed routes to get from one place to another. Any change in their routine may cause them to panic.
Who is most likely to get agoraphobia, and what causes it?
Women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with agoraphobia than men. Most people experience their first symptoms in adolescence or young adulthood, with the majority of patients diagnosed by age 35.
Studies have found that certain events can trigger a person’s agoraphobia. Being a victim of abuse, a violent crime, or experiencing the death of a loved one can trigger agoraphobia. But in most cases, suffering a panic attack, especially in public, can trigger the manifestation of agoraphobia symptoms. About one-third of people who get panic attacks will go on to develop agoraphobia.
While it is difficult for clinicians to pin-down the exact causes of anxiety disorders like agoraphobia, a combination of genetics, personal temperament, and environmental stressors can cause someone to develop a mental health condition. Studies have found that having a close relative with panic disorder can increase an individual’s risk of becoming agoraphobic.
What is depression?
Clinical depression refers to several subtypes of major depressive disorder. It is a mental health condition characterized by pervasive feelings of sadness, self-loathing, and significant changes in behavior and daily function. Unfortunately, panic and anxiety disorders like agoraphobia can trigger depression. Patients with a history of major depression are at high risk of developing panic disorder and agoraphobia. Some of the symptoms present in major depressive disorder are similar to those seen in agoraphobia and can worsen the symptoms of each.
- Feeling sad for no particular reason
- Pervasive feelings of self-loathing and guilt
- Trouble eating and sleeping
- Changes in weight
- Fatigue and lethargy despite getting enough sleep
- Lack of enjoyment in usual activities
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Failure to perform self-care routines
- Not participating at work or school
- Socially isolating oneself
- Suicidal thoughts and attempts
Left untreated, it is impossible for patients and their loved ones to know how long a depressive episode will last, and how severe it will be. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Untreated depression can also significantly impair a person’s ability to achieve their goals and maintain their relationships. Although it is a severe disorder, depression is highly treatable with a combination of medications and therapy. The severity of the disease and the patient’s circumstances and needs will determine the particular course of action. The most effective treatments for depression are tailored to the patient’s exact needs and symptoms.
Can agoraphobia cause depression?
It is possible for agoraphobia to trigger depression in susceptible individuals. Failing to go to work or school, or participate in social events because of panic attacks and agoraphobia can lead to embarrassment and shame. Becoming socially isolated can also make a person susceptible to becoming depressed.
Can treating depression lessen the severity of agoraphobia?
Treating depression can make a person less likely to experience agoraphobia episodes in the future, and vice versa. In most cases where a patient has comorbid mental health conditions, treating both disorders at the same time with holistic and integrated treatment methods is ideal. Both agoraphobia and depression can be successfully treated with transcranial magnetic stimulation and talk therapy. These conditions are chronic and need lifelong treatment and maintenance, but patients can go on to live a life free from symptoms after getting initial treatment.
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of depression and agoraphobia, it’s never too late to reach out for help. These mental health conditions are prevalent, and also highly treatable. Please contact Pulse TMS today to make an appointment, and ask for a licensed psychiatrist who is experienced with treating depression.