Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or help wouldn't be available if things go wrong. Many people assume that agoraphobia is simply a fear of open spaces but it is more complex than that.

A person with agoraphobia may be afraid of:
• travelling on public transport
• visiting a shopping centre
• leaving home

They avoid situations that cause anxiety and may only leave the house with a friend or partner, or order groceries online rather than go to the supermarket. This change in behaviour is known as avoidance.

What causes Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia usually develops as a complication of panic disorder and may arise as a result of associating panic attacks with places or situations and then avoiding them. A minority of people with agoraphobia have no history of panic attacks. In these cases, their fear may be related to issues such as a fear of crime, terrorism, illness or being in an accident. Traumatic events such as bereavement may also contribute towards agoraphobia.

Who is affected

Almost 2% of the population have a panic disorder and it is thought around a third of those will go on to develop agoraphobia as a result. Agoraphobia is twice as common in women as men, and the condition usually starts between the ages of 18 and 35.


Depending on the treatment given around a third of people eventually achieve a complete cure and remain free from symptoms. Around half experience an improvement in symptoms but they may have periods when symptoms become more troublesome; for example if they feel stressed. Agoraphobia if left untreated will become more restrictive and cause increased impairment and distress. What this means is the persons world will shrink. While it may start with the avoidance of large supermarkets or having coffee with the other school mums it will ultimately confine the person more and more and their family with them.

Good news

The good news is that Agoraphobia is very treatable using CBT. Normally the Panic Disorder (where present) would be addressed first and success rates are very high. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends 7-14 Hours of CBT for Panic with Agoraphobia.

What to do...

If you suffer from, or know someone who suffers from Agoraphobia get them into a CBT treatment programme with a qualified practitioner. It takes courage to confront your fears but the outcome will be a better quality of life for you and your family.