Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder defined by an intense fear of places that can lead to feeling trapped, helpless, scared, or embarrassed. Types of places that bring on this fear, such as crowds or public transport, are avoided to minimize social anxiety. Panic attacks are commonly experienced with agoraphobia. Someone with this type of specific phobia may also have panic disorder, but it depends on the person.
Agoraphobia definition and diagnosis
The term agoraphobia comes from the root “agora,” an assembly of people, and “phobia” or fear. Put together, agoraphobia means the fear of spaces with an assembly of people, which usually includes places with lines of people, crowds, and with no easy exit. This manifests as an anxiety disorder, a type of mental health condition diagnosed based on certain specified criteria.
Psychologists define agoraphobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM 5) as an anxiety disorder with intense fear of two or more of the following situations:
- Using public transportation
- Open spaces, such as markets or parking lots
- Enclosed spaces, such as stores and theaters
- Standing in line or being in a crowd
- Being outside of the home alone
Being in these situations causes significant distress to people with this type of social anxiety, so much so that it can inhibit normal daily life. The deeper fear is that of feeling trapped, helpless, panicked, scared, or embarrassed, which then manifests in the fear of the above situations. People with this type of specific phobia worry about being able to leave a situation and fear embarrassment as well. The fears associated with agoraphobia often make it difficult for someone struggling to leave their home as they prioritize avoiding anxiety-inducing places.
Agoraphobia usually emerges in young adulthood, with 17-years-old as the average age of onset. Approximately 1.3 percent of US adults will experience agoraphobia in their lifetime. There are similar rates of agoraphobia in women and men, and yearly prevalence for women sits at .9 percent and .8 percent for men.