Death anxiety in the time of COVID-19: Theoretical explanations and clinical implications

Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 2020, 13, pp. e19
Issue Date:
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© 2020 Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a surge in anxiety across the globe. Much of the public's behavioural and emotional response to the virus can be understood through the framework of terror management theory, which proposes that fear of death drives much of human behaviour. In the context of the current pandemic, death anxiety, a recently proposed transdiagnostic construct, appears especially relevant. Fear of death has recently been shown to predict not only anxiety related to COVID-19, but also to play a causal role in various mental health conditions. Given this, it is argued that treatment programmes in mental health may need to broaden their focus to directly target the dread of death. Notably, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to produce significant reductions in death anxiety. As such, it is possible that complementing current treatments with specific CBT techniques addressing fears of death may ensure enhanced long-Term symptom reduction. Further research is essential in order to examine whether treating death anxiety will indeed improve long-Term outcomes, and prevent the emergence of future disorders in vulnerable populations. Key learning aims (1) To understand terror management theory and its theoretical explanation of death anxiety in the context of COVID-19.(2) To understand the transdiagnostic role of death anxiety in mental health disorders.(3) To understand current treatment approaches for directly targeting death anxiety, and the importance of doing so to improve long-Term treatment outcomes.
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