Have you been to your primary care physician lately? Chances are if you are in your twenties, it has been awhile since you paid your doctor a visit. Whether it has been a time issue or a lack of health insurance, many young adults skip out on yearly physicals; unless the car acts up, then we don’t take it in for regular diagnostics. Although you may feel all right, physically how has your mental health been lately? Perhaps you have been feeling stressed out, depressed, anxious, or inattentive for some time.
In the field of mental health counseling, there is a large volume of clinical terms that in totality make up the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). One of the terms used to describe a condition that is happily sharing its host with another ailment is known as comorbidity (Valderas, 2009). In a simpler explanation, the depression, anxiety, or even psychosis you may be experiencing could have a contributing physical condition. According to the Center for Disease Control, almost a quarter of Americans are suffering from a mental illness but not from mental illness alone. “Mental illness is an important public health problem in itself—about 25% of U.S. adults have a mental illness—but also because it is associated with chronic medical diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity” (2013).
There are many obvious conditions such as cancer or amputations causing depression, but there are other disorders you may not be aware of that are aggravating your mental status. Consider hypothyroidism for example: according to Harvard Medical School (2011), approximately ten million people in the United States have the disorder known or unknown to them. Hypothyroidism is a key culprit to depression as it greatly affects the hormone levels linked to the pituitary gland functions.
Maybe depression is not your struggle, but anxiety floods your system when you have to go out somewhere. Is getting out of the house causing trouble for fear of your intestines flipping out on you? Irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis can wreak havoc on your stomach causing you to be less social; constantly needing to locate a restroom can be embarrassing. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America points out that “…up to 70 percent of people with IBS are not receiving treatment. Of those who do seek treatment, research has found that 50 to 90 percent have a psychiatric disorder such as an anxiety disorder or depression” (2016).
Comorbidity is not simply a mental illness masking another medical condition. It can also work in reverse as a physical condition or symptom develops as mental or emotional stress takes over. Life is hard, and there is no getting around it sometimes. When we are not mindful of our thoughts, experiences, and stress levels, it can creep up on us in physical manifestations. For example, posttraumatic stress disorder can take quite a toll on a person physically. Night sweats, sleeplessness, weight loss, increased heart rate, and chronic fatigue are just a few symptoms.
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say ‘My heart is broken’.”
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Whether it’s a trip to the doctor’s or a day off to see a counselor, take care of yourself. Pain is a side effect of being human, but it doesn’t have to be a lifestyle.
Lewis, C. S. (2001). The problem of pain. New York, NY: HarperOne.
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