All in the Head: Alarming Rise of Psychosomatic Disorders in India

Simply put, psychosomatic disorders are any physical medical conditions caused by stress or psychological factors.

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All in the Head: Alarming Rise of Psychosomatic Disorders in India

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(Five out of ten leading causes of disability around the world are mental health issues. As part of a series of articles leading up to World Health Day on 7 April, The Quint is focusing on raising awareness and mobilising support.)

Out of the 800 patients that Dr Manjari Tripathi, Professor Neurology, AIIMS, sees every month on an average, five to ten percent suffer from psychosomatic disorders, placing the number somewhere between 40-80 patients.

A psychosomatic disorder is any illness which has no definite physical or physiological cause, but instead is triggered by stress, anxiety or any other kind of mental conflict. Even though it stems in the brain, it’s manifestation is physical. It may take the form of minor conditions like skin problems, perpetual headache, unexplained pain in limbs, fatigue to name a few.

In more severe cases, the outcome could be signs of a stroke/paraplegia (lower body paralysis), pseudo-seizures or other movement disorders, Dr Manjari Tripathi points out.


In 2010, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (Government of India), in its ‘Guidelines for the Management of Common Mental Disorders’, described psychosomatic disorders as:

A real medical condition affected by stress or psychological factors.

Stress Causing Great Medical damage

Conflict, stress, denial, anxiety, desire for sympathy are all causes of disorders of this kind. (Photo Courtesy: Tumblr/twenty1-grams)

Dr Tripathi points out that “conflict, stress, denial, anxiety, desire for sympathy” are all causes of disorders of this kind. While stress is a known cause for a fall in immunity, and therefore, a rise in medical problems, sometimes its more nuanced forms end up causing great medical damage simply because their existence is not realised and addressed. Denial and repression, for instance, are two such forms of stress.

Infancy is perhaps the only time when one manages to give vent to raw emotions (anger, pain, glee etc). However, with time, adulthood often forces individuals to deny or mould emotions depending on what is defined as the normative.

The consequent denial often leads to repression which, if not, addressed might have overt manifestations thereby leading to psychosomatic disorders.


Adverse Effects and Treatment

In some severe cases of psychosomatic disorders, adverse effects include:

Severely repeated hospitalisations, injections, even operations which were wrongly done as the diagnosis could not be suspected.
Dr Manjari Tripathi

Some ways of treating these disorders, as pointed out by Dr Tripathi, include conducting all tests to ensure there are no organic causes for the illness. She adds that if all of these causes are ruled out, counselling and therapy becomes imperative for the patient.

The age-old relation between a healthy body and a healthy mind cannot be emphasised enough in this context.


Every Indian Household Has At Least One Member With the Disorder

It becomes important to nurture and cultivate a sense of mindfulness. (Photo Courtesy: Tumblr/0nly-an-illusi0n)

Disorders of this kind are on a massive rise in India.

Psychosomatic disorders are very, very prevalent in India. Every household will have at least one member with this condition.
Dr Manjari Tripathi

However, due to several reasons, lack of awareness being one, psychosomatic disorders are often not even realised as being responsible for a medical condition.

Since the narrative around mental disorders is fairly nascent in India, the first response to a physiological illness is not often considered to be stemming in the head. Therefore, it becomes important to nurture and cultivate a sense of mindfulness and strive to get more in touch with the self.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez once stated:

No medicine cures what happiness can’t.

One wonders how he would respond if he could see the current status of mental health in India and all the medical conditions it’s resulting in with many patients not even realising the mind being the actual cause of their ailments.

(This article was first published on 1 February 2017. It is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark World Health Day on 7 April 2017.)

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