Many people now have a good grasp of the basics of mental disorders like depression, even if they don’t quite get the tolerance and acceptance aspect.
However, during May’s Mental Health Month, it’s important to also recognize other less common mental disorders, such as somatic symptom disorders like illness anxiety disorder and somatic symptom disorder.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these disorders all are characterized by “the prominence of somatic symptoms associated with significant distress and impairment.”
"Somatic" means “of, relating to, or affecting the body especially as distinguished from the germplasm or the psyche,” according to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.
People with somatic symptom disorders (previously labeled as somatoform disorders) were thought to have medically unexplained physical symptoms, suggesting that any physical pain was all in their head.
However, in the new DSM-5, there is more lenience in the diagnosis of people who may have a medical diagnosis but also present with psychological issues. This helps avoid the issue of separating the body from the mind and suggesting that there was no basis for feeling physical symptoms.
“The new classification defines the major diagnosis, somatic symptom disorder, on the basis of positive symptoms (distressing somatic symptoms plus abnormal thoughts, feelings and behaviors in response to these symptoms),” according to the DSM-5.
Patients who suffer from somatic symptom disorder experience multiple somatic symptoms that cause distress or “significant disruption of daily life.”
They tend to have anxiety associated with their health and symptoms, and go to the doctor frequently, though oftentimes they have no actual medical diagnosis or cannot find relief with treatment.
People who suffer from illness anxiety disorder, also known as “hypochondria” or “hypochondriasis,” don’t actually have any somatic symptoms, or they usually only have mild symptoms. If they do have a medical condition, they tend to be overly preoccupied with their health status.