AGORAPHOBIA is an extremely debilitating condition leading many people to become housebound and to exist on the fringes of life.
It affects about 1 in 125. (In Cornwall this equates to just over 4,000 people).
Basically, there are two fears in agoraphobia. Firstly, it is a fear of fear itself. People with agoraphobia are very afraid of getting anxious or panicky – they often have some catastrophic belief about what will happen when they become afraid. (For example, "If I get anxious I will faint or not be able to breathe"). So, understandably, they try to avoid situations where they may experience fear. Secondly, they are afraid of being in a situation where they will experience fear and not be able to escape. What is the common thread of these situations; being in an aeroplane or train, being a long way from home, being in a queue in a supermarket, and sitting in the middle of a row in a theatre? The answer is they are all situations that are difficult to leave or escape from quickly. Just to explain, in an open space, far from home, you will be unable to quickly return to your home.
Therefore, the agoraphobic person fears being trapped in these situations and consequently avoids them.
So, their home and immediate neighbourhood becomes a 'safety zone' and they rarely venture out of this. They often become dependent on friends and family to help with shopping, errands and to accompany them if they want to travel further afield.
It's a double-edged sword, because it is a highly restricted lifestyle, but safe at the same time. Which probably explains why many with this condition have mixed feelings about seeking the help that is out there.
■ For NHS-funded therapy for stress, anxiety or depression, phone (01208) 871905 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org