Last week, the World Mental Health Day was observed, a day to create awareness among people regarding sickness which is not physical but due to affection of the mind, either physically or due to derangement of neurochemical balance of brain or due to stress.
But one group of illness stands apart from these group of diseases, that is, psychosomatic illness. This is where the person does not have any physical or mental ailment but feigns a sickness for some personal gain or avoiding some situation.
Common psychosomatic complaints are palpitations, abdominal pain, hiccoughs, body pain, paralysis and unconsciousness. Mental stress aggravates the problem. It is common to see many students coming to the hospital around examination time with many vague problems.
Although women are said to suffer more from these conditions, men can also have it. An individual can have complaint of severe breathlessness, which is frightening to the onlooker, but in reality he may be normal. One may have excess fatigue for which there is no explanation.
A psychosomatic condition is diagnosed by excluding physical illness by means of relevant exams. It has to be differentiated from organic psychiatric problems like schizophrenia and maniac depressive illness, which need treatment.
Hypochondriac people are sick with anxiety related to imaginary disease/diseases. Even if they hear about some illness in another person, they start imagining to be suffering from it.
Some persons have psychosomatic problems episodically, but some have it frequently.
Psychosomatisation always indicates a weak mind. A person who is not able to face a stressful situation starts pretending to be sick. Alcohol and other addictions add on the problem.
Such individuals spend a lot of time visiting hospitals to seek treatment. It is not an individual problem but affects the society as a whole because overall productivity is affected.
In a family, entire family gets disturbed if somebody becomes, “sick”. It also burdens the family financially.
In hospitals, they add on the number of patients and work load of hospital staff. With limited number of working hands available, these individuals divert the focus of health personnel, from really sick people.
In institutions, such people avoid their share of work due to the supposed sickness. This reduces the entire productivity of that institute. Authorities also remain confused as to what to do with this employee? Moreover, when they become really sick, people knowing them do not believe them readily.
Majority of these people do so unknowingly, without realising that being in the hospital is not going to solve any problem for them. Rather they spend money unnecessarily and expose themselves to acquiring infections from other patients.
Instead of attention and medicines, these people need good counseling and adopt methods for mental relaxation. It is better to face the world bravely and find solutions for stressful situations, instead of pretending sickness
Dr Rachna Pande is a nspecialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri