Tonight we had a great chat during the usual Tuesday night (#mhsm) Mental Health and Social Media chat on Twitter. I was happy to be moderating this evening and I chose to discuss the topic of “psychosomatic illness”. I based the topic off of a post I recently wrote on WEGO Health called, “Is Psychosomatic a Bad Word?”
The comments were wonderful and overall the discussion itself was fabulous. So many thought provoking statements and questions, as well as heartfelt sentiments were shared. I would love to recap the whole chat for you, but instead I will direct you to the transcripts at http://wthashtag.com/mhsm.
What I want to make a point of sharing is that the word psychosomatic really is about the mind/body connection and it’s current usage is typically quite distorted. We hear the word “psychosomatic” from a doctor and we feel dismissed, often rightfully so. We tell a doctor or friend that something could be “psychosomatic” or that we have a history with mental health challenges and our health concerns and/or pain may be immediately taken with a grain of salt and not given anywhere near the attention it deserves. It is a huge problem for patients and I believe it is a problem for physicians as well. Patients feel neglected, rejected, and sometimes infuriated by the presumption that an illness or pain could be entirely caused by their emotions and I assume doctors must feel like that is sometimes the only answer they have. I am also confident that many a diagnosis is missed by physicians who do not look further into causes of pain and illness once they learn that a patient has a psych history. Not to mention, their bedside manner often goes straight down the tubes, once they determine they are dealing with a psychosomatic illness of some kind.
In order to create an environment where psychosomatic is no longer a bad word, we have to change our whole approach. The roots of the word itself comes from the combination of mind and body. Combination. Intermingling. Entwined. The perception that the mind is somehow separate from the rest of the body is just plain foolish (that’s right, it’s dumb!) and creates an enormous amount of hassles and unnecessary, sometimes atrocious, challenges for patients.
All illness, even ones with a very identifiable cause, have a psychosomatic aspect to them. All illness affects our body and our minds. That means an organ of our body, our brains, are always involved and there is nothing “psycho” about that, it is plain truth. I am not an MD, or even close, but I know that my brain works intimately with every other system in my body. When something is going wrong in my foot, my brain knows it. There just is no separation of mind and body.
If my doctor wants to discuss a psychosomatic cause of pain, I’m all for it, because it’s sure important to consider what can be done for better brain health, emotional and neurological components at once. It’s just as important to discuss these issues as it is my lab results. In fact, perhaps it’s time to remember the real changes in chemistry in our brain when we are ill or in pain, there is nothing made up about that. Can we measure these changes? Can we get lab results back about that? Not so easily, but perhaps there is a future in that.
What do you think? What will it take to change the stigma of “psychosomatic”? Can you see the possibility of the word being used in a healthy way? What have your experiences been with this word? How has it made you feel? Are you willing/able to talk to your doctor or caregiver about it?