UNWILLING TO LEAVE HOME
By Dr. Joyce Brothers
I've offered to take her out to a restaurant near where I work, but she always makes up some excuse. When I refused to meet her at her home the last time, she started to cry, and said there were reasons that she couldn't explain. What could they be? — R.L.
Dear R.L.: I have no real way of knowing, but one guess is that she might suffer from agoraphobia, the fear of leaving her surroundings, and that she was too embarrassed to talk about this with you — or perhaps with anyone.
You might mention the subject of agoraphobia when you next talk with her, or if you don't want to do this directly, you can get some printed material on this particular phobia and send it to her. Do research at your local library and copy some information.
If agoraphobia is her problem, and if she's keeping it a secret, she should know that help is available. There is treatment for it, and most places that offer it have a relatively high success rate.
Agoraphobia strikes women more often than men, and those who have this disabling problem also frequently have seemingly unrelated panic attacks.
Try to maintain this friendship, not only because old friends are to be cherished but you may also be able to help her get the professional treatment she needs.
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Dear Dr. Brothers: My 5-year-old son constantly complaints about his health. Is it possible for a person to be a hypochondriac at such an early age? If so, what would make him this way? And what, if anything, should I do about it?
His father says to ignore it and he'll grow out of it if we pay no attention. What's your view? — D.I.
Dear D.I.: A tendency toward hypochondria can begin very early in life. Before taking any action, talk with your doctor about these complaints to make sure there's nothing actually physically wrong with your son. His hypochondria might simply be an attempt to get more attention from his parents, or to avoid having to do something he doesn't wish to do.
As I'm sure you know, children imitate their role models, so if they observe parents complaining about physical health, whether for real or psychological reasons, they're apt to repeat this behavior.
Your husband is correct in that parents shouldn't reward this kind of habit with special treatment. If your son gets a minor scratch, compliment him for being brave.
If someone close to a child — a parent, grandparent or even another child — has been ill around the child, he might begin to worry that the same thing is going to happen to him. He might get overly concerned about his health. If this is true, encourage him to talk about his fears so you can reassure him.