Thoughts on Mental Illness

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Anxiety, depression, and bouts of explosive anger can be indicators of an early medical problem and not just psychological.  The main information processing systems of the body – the endocrine, central nervous and immune systems are in constant communication with one another to inform the body about the internal and external environments.

Most recently in the 2015 edition of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, a group of Italian researchers explored whether depression, anxiety and other psychiatric mood disorders might be early signs of a physical problem. Such physical problems may be Cushing’s Syndrome, hypothyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, pancreatic and lung cancer, myocardial infarction, Wilsons disease and aids- to name a few possible causes.

All too often it seems physicians struggle to recognize the connections between the physical and mental, referring a person to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist for treatment.  However, it is important to remember our minds and bodies are intimately connected.  Physical problems can influence the brain/ mental state and the mental states can affect the bodily functions.

When we are sick, our bodies try to fight the disease, the infection, and or the injury.  It takes a lot of energy and we can end up very fatigued.  In time, our emotional and mental states can be affected through fear and anxiety or depression- often to avoid the reality of a serious illness, or problem and hence, a condition can be misdiagnosed as mental, rather than physical.

The DSM5 (the most current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association) provides examples of medical conditions that may be associated with mood and anxiety disturbances; but not a list of medical disorders characterized by early physical symptoms. 

This is all to say that it may not be just in your HEAD.  Hence, at times antidepressant drugs may not be effective for anxiety/depression. It is then very important to ask your doctor(s) to conduct a physical exam as part of a treatment plan, in order to potentially rule out any other medical issues that may be causing a mental symptom.