Physical Health Symptoms

Why is a mental health charity campaigning on physical health? Isn’t that all sorted out by GPs? These are some of the questions I’ve been asked while campaigning on physical health. I’m an Activism Officer at Rethink Mental Illness and I’ve been looking at why people with severe mental illness usually have poorer physical health than the rest of the population – yes there’s lots of stats to prove that!

One of the problems we’ve seen is that symptoms are not always taken seriously by healthcare staff. So someone goes to the doctor and tells them what’s physically wrong and the doctor assumes that it must be caused by their mental illness.

I know one woman who was told for months that her intense abdominal pain was all in her head. It turned out she had gall stones and a diseased gall bladder!

I’d be interested to hear if this happens in Leeds. Have you had staff tell you that your physical symptoms were down to your mental illness – and were they right or wrong?

Many people do get psychosomatic symptoms, such as tummy ache from anxiety and it must be very hard for doctors to tell the difference. But then people with mental illness are just as likely to get appendicitis, irritable bowel syndrome or chrons disease as anyone else. So it’s not a clear cut issue. What’s your experience of this?

www.rethink.org/ph
twitter: @MHActivismNorth

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8 thoughts on “Physical Health Symptoms

  1. I know very little about the statistics you refer to, perhaps the side effects from taking psychiatric medication could be a factor in the poorer physical health of people with mental health problems, anyone taking medication for any health problem is vulnerable, guess it’s weighing the pros and cons, if you feel empowered to do so.
    On the whole I’ve had reasonable experiences in Leeds, despite my mental health diagnosis, when reporting physical symptoms to my G.P. A trip to Accident and Emergency for a suspected heart problem was less positive, one member of staff wanted to admit me the other not. I over heard, only the cubicle curtain divided me from them, “psychiatric history”….I was sent home! Good luck with your campaign.
    Su

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  2. It certainly used to happen that people’s physical health symptoms were ignored. I remember working with an elderly man with mh problems when I was an advocate in the 1990s who was convinced he was seriously unwell. His GP lost his temper when I went to see him and said ‘he’s wasting my time and yours’, refusing to give him any more than a perfunctory examination – the man collapsed and died 3 days later. I also heard of a day centre user at that time who had cancer so advanced that by the time it was diagnosed she died within a few weeks. I’d hoped things had improved – although a Disability Rights Commission investigation in 2006 http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/DRC/Health%20FI%20main.pdf described ‘diagnostic overshadowing’ – that is physical ill health being viewed as part of the mental health problem. Also that ‘people with mental health problems and learning disabilities are more likely than other citizens to have significant health risks and major health problems’, Terry

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  3. I came across a doctor who didn’t take my physical symptoms seriously because of my mental health history of many years earlier. Fortunately for me my physical illness was not a serious condition, but the dangers when medical staff make these assumptions are frightening, as seen in the comments above. I hope more attention will be drawn to this. My article about it appeared in Openmind: http://www.mind.org.uk/campaigns_and_issues/report_and_resources/808_thirty_years_on

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  4. Thanks for commenting, sharing your personal experience and reblogging this article, I guess that means it gets a greater audience and hopefully increases awareness of the dilemma of being a patient or a practitioner when someone has both physical and mental health issues, the specific and extreme cases mentioned are very sad. The interplay of emotional and psychological issues on our general well being seem very complex, my G.P. certainly is very thorough, taking longer than the few cursory minutes others give. Ideally someone with mental health issues would be given adequate time and advocacy to articulate their problems.
    Su

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  5. I can comment about not being taken seriously with the side effects of anti-depressants. I had extreme anxiety when taking some anti-depressants and it felt like it was getting worse and worse and there was a real sense of doom… the inner tension was so tense I felt like I was on the cusp of some kind of SNAP! I explained this to the Doctor who got his BNF out which is a book detailing side effects of medication and explained to me that it was normal and would disappear in a week and I should persist in taking these tablets. I explained to him that I had been on a forum online and had seen that other people had experienced these distressing severe symptoms. The doctor actually said ‘Oh that is just patient’s talking’ as if to say ignore that !!! They don’t know what they are talking about – as obviously … ‘they’re mad!’ I asked the doctor if he had ever taken anti-depressants himself – he hadn’t. Later I called the Leeds Crisis line and spoke to someone who actually listened and took me seriously and it felt right! I stopped taking the tablets and soon started to recover from this severe inner tension. I believe people who suffer from Mental Health Issues are often subjected to invalidation (not by all) and this can exacerbate Mental Health Issues along with any physical health issues which are ignored.

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  6. Well done for sticking to your convictions, great that you got someone to validate your experience and to remain medication free.
    I never heard ‘external’ voices as part of my mental health issues, as many people do, but I was asked “do you ever hear voices no one else does” in all genuineness I enquired “how would I know”……the counsellor of a supposedly user friendly service was not amused!

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  7. Thanks so much Terry, Jean, Su and Gettingwellstayingwell. It’s really interesting to hear your experiences, looks like Leeds isn’t free of ‘diagnostic over-shadowing’ either. Of course doctors over-looking symptoms isn’t the only problem, (more blog posts to come!) but if people with mental illness were listened to when they did seek help it would make a real difference. I’m having a meeting with people from Mind, the advocacy service and Time to Change to discuss this problem – how can we get these experiences out there? What action can we take in Leeds to make a difference? We’re meeting on the 14th November at Leeds Art Gallery Cafe, if you’d like to come along just email me on charlotte.wetton@rethink.org
    @MHActivismNorth
    facebook: MHActivismNorth

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