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Your Physical Illness May Now Be Labeled a Mental Disorder.

Somatic Symptom Disorder DSM5 mental disorder Psychology Today

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5 replies to this topic

#1 Joelf


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Posted 06 February 2013 - 12:09 AM

Your Physical Illness May Now Be Labeled a Mental Disorder.

Somatic Symptom Disorder is defined so over inclusively by DSM 5 that it will mislabel 1 in 6 people with cancer and heart disease; 1 in 4 with irritable bowel and fibromyalgia. Psychology Today. 01/17/13. (Also see: Difficult Diagnosis and Anxiety and Attitude)

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#2 Shelley Ensz

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 01:21 PM

I'm really surprised that nobody commented on this news article, Your Physical Illness May Now Be Labeled a Mental Disorder.

"People can be diagnosed with Somatic Symptom Disorder if, for at least six months, they’ve had one or more symptoms that are distressing and/or disruptive to their daily life, and if they have one [only one] of the following three reactions:
Criteria #1: disproportionate thoughts about the seriousness of their symptom(s);
Criteria #2: a high level of anxiety about their symptoms or health; or
Criteria #3: devoting excessive time and energy to their symptoms or health concerns.
Can you see how this diagnosis potentially includes everything from a stomach ache to cancer?"

Since systemic scleroderma typically onsets very gradually and is usually undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for an average of 6 years in women (3 years for men), it creates a great risk for scleroderma patients to be diagnosed with Somatic Symptom Disorder, which could derail efforts to achieve the correct diagnosis.

I don't know what any of us could do about this, since we certainly can't tell mental health professionals how to establish their ground rules, but I do think this is something that anyone who is experiencing new and undiagnosed symptoms should be aware of.
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Shelley Ensz
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#3 judyt


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Posted 08 February 2013 - 03:18 PM

Yes Shelley, I think I have to agree. I think we all know at least one person who seems to be overly engaged on the state of their health and it is very easy to say, or think, it is all in their mind.

I know I thought that about myself for many years as my Scleroderma slowly took over and everybody I asked about it seemed to shrug their shoulders and say it's nothing to worry about. An insidious invasion until all of a sudden one day something went very wrong and I was in the emergency department.

I can see the other side of the coin though, and I can understand how practitioners must get very frustrated when they are faced with somebody without too much that is obvious and the easy way out is to label it as a 'mental' thing.

However, when I think back over my own family - my father's lung cancer which was called an allergy to something in the air, my sister's ovarian cancer which was probably that she was expecting a late baby!!!! and our daughter's gluten intolerance which was vaguely rheumatic but mostly her timid nature causing tummy upsets. I do wonder what is going on sometimes in a Consultant's head, the fact that they are having a bad day, or feel very tired as one Dermatologist did to me when I consulted him about the peculiar things going on with my fingers - he could hardly stay awake and thinking back he should have excused himself and made another time to see me.

Like you, I can't see what we lay people can DO about this because it all turns around and confirms that one is probably a nutter who needs to be mollified or sent home with a flea in their ear.


#4 miocean


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Posted 11 February 2013 - 09:55 AM

My greatest concern with this new diagnosis is for younger people who will receive a label of mental illness when they actually have a difficult to diagnosis physical illness. How will it affect them as they go through life, especially with schooling or careers? What kind of profiling will they get in their files? How many employers are going to be willing to hire someone with a label of mental illness?

Here in the United States mental illness has come to the forefront of the news since The Newtown Massacre, an incident where a mentally ill individual killed his mother, then drove to an elementary school where he massacred 20 young children and 6 adults before killing himself. He was known to have mental issues, social issues, a developmental condition, and access to guns. Focus is now being placed on discovering tendencies early and getting treatment for mental illness. In speaking about this terrible tragedy I had a friend tell me her son was being "tracked" while he was in high school. When I asked why she said he was a quiet boy, socially withdrawn, and very into computers and that he fit "the characteristics."

As for myself, I would totally fit this diagnosis. I was officially diagnosed within 6 months of onset with scleroderma but it occurred through my seeing many doctors without getting an answer, searching the internet for my symptoms, having scleroderma come up again and again, and asking for an ANA test to be run. I had previously seen doctors for anxiety and depression so already had the mental illness part. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I had a major crisis in the 7 month where the diagnosis became undeniable. I know many go through years of experiencing different symptoms and not getting an answer, most will be looking for answers via the internet, spending a lot of time thinking about their symptoms, and experiencing anxiety.

At my age, I will no longer be applying to schools or entering the work force but I am concerned that young, sick people will be labeled with Somatic Symptom Disorder (SSD) and that it will affect their futures. It seems to be an easy way out for the medical profession. Of course, there are those individuals who think they have everything just by reading the symptoms. But for those who are really physically ill it is sad to think they may be labeled mentally ill.

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#5 Shelley Ensz

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Posted 12 February 2013 - 11:25 AM

Miocean, I agree with you that this is a serious issue and one which is very likely to adversely affect people with undiagnosed scleroderma.  It's rather scary that the mental health professionals will actually be presuming mental illness for any physical illness that is undiagnosed for six months -- when it is an average of 6 years for women to be diagnosed with scleroderma (and 3 years for men). 


Many autoimmune diseases take many years to be diagnosed, some cases are only diagnosed by autopsy, and half of the people with symptoms of connective tissue disease never develop full blown (diagnosable) illness. Worse yet, many of the initial symptoms of scleroderma are vague, such as a feeling of being cold all the time, tiredness, fatigue, and less endurance, puffy fingers that come and go.  It doesn't take much imagination at all to see how quickly this would play into the hands of someone eager to lay a "difficult" patient to rest with Somatic Symptom Disorder. 


And then again, you can see how sometimes a perfectly healthy person could obsess about a minor health variation to the point that it is a mental illness. But very few medical professionals are even aware of scleroderma, which is one thing that leads to it be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for so long, so the awareness among mental health professionals must be even lower.

Warm Hugs,

Shelley Ensz
Founder and President
International Scleroderma Network (ISN)
Hotline and Donations: 1-800-564-7099

The most important thing in the world to know about scleroderma is sclero.org.

#6 Amanda Thorpe

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Posted 14 February 2013 - 04:36 PM

I would hazard a guess that not many people replied because it's an overwhelming issue so they ignored it. I certainly did!


It's awful to contemplate because it's a golden ticket for lazy or incompetent doctors to use to fob off patients they either can't be bothered to or are unable to treat and diagnose.


Take care.

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