Posted by: jedwardswright | August 4, 2011

Could I Be A Hypochondriac?

People with mood disorders are sometimes accused of being lazy, pessimistic, delusional, or unwilling to improve. These denunciations occasionally even come from members of the medical profession. Such subjective allegations are as difficult to prove as they are to disprove, but that doesn’t stop people from making these hurtful claims anyway. The practice of blaming the victim is alive and thriving.

One of the most distressing labels that may be aimed at a depressed person is that of hypochondria, or as it is known medically, hypochondriasis. This may create certain doubts in your minds. You may ask yourself whether there is any truth in this assessment of our condition.

What is hypochondriasis?

Hypochondriasis is ultimately a kind of anxiety. Some professionals consider it a subset of obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD.[i]

If someone worries constantly about their health without any apparent medical cause, and refuses to accept the reassurances of doctors that their perceived symptoms are harmless, they may have hypochondria.[ii]  A person with hypochondria is truly suffering, but not from any serious medical condition, as she fears, but from extreme anxiety about falling gravely ill or dying.

If you are spending hours mulling over medical websites and forums, trying to establish what is wrong with you that could be another sign that you are overreacting. In fact, doctors have developed a term for patients who surf the web looking for possible illnesses, “cyberchondriacs.”[iii]

Hypochondriasis typically develops during a person’s twenties or thirties, continues for a minimum of six months, and interferes with the ability to enjoy and cope with life.[iv]

Could my feelings of depression be imaginary?

If you have been diagnosed with dysthymia (a milder but chronic form of depression), major depressive disorder (MDD) or bipolar disorder by a medical professional, you are definitely not creating the extreme sadness that you are experiencing. A biochemical imbalance in your brain is altering your mood, and it can be treated successfully.

If you have not been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and have not consulted with a psychiatrist, I urge you to do so. A psychiatrist is simply a type of specialist trained to treat mental health issues, the same way a cardiologist is a doctor especially trained to treat heart patients. Whether what you are experiencing is depression or not, a psychiatrist is the best person to decide.

Could I have both depression and hypochondria?

Depression and anxiety disorders can occur together (or be “comorbid”), so it would make sense that a person could suffer from both depression and hypochondria. Having hypochondria would not necessarily rule out also having depression, but seek out a professional opinion. [v]

Physicians are understandably reluctant to use the term “hypochondria” because they don’t wish to embarrass or annoy their patients, so chances are you will never hear that word in a doctor’s office. The diagnosis is liable to be implied rather than openly identified [vi]

It is the nature of a hypochondriac not to believe doctors’ diagnoses, though, so while seeking out a second opinion can sometimes be a good thing, seeking out a third or fourth opinion is probably a sign that you are in danger of being over-preoccupied with your health. [vii]

Hypochondriacs tend to obsess about multiple health conditions and deduce that they face the worst possible scenario based on their supposed symptoms. If depression is the only health condition that you are concerned about, than it is very unlikely that you have hypochondria, and you probably should push such suggestions from non-professionals aside.

So I am not imagining my depression?

Unless you are devoting a major proportion of your time to agonizing over your health, you are probably not a hypochondriac, and you are unlikely to be imagining the emotions you are experiencing.

Still, I can’t stress strongly enough the need for you to consult with your doctor, and preferably a psychiatrist, to get a proper diagnosis. There is no need to be silently miserable when most of us with depression respond positively to treatment.

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