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mental health "mondays" :: is it all in your head?

uh-oh
one of the most common questions asked about any sort of mental disorder diagnosis is whether or not there is an objective test you can take to confirm it. wouldn't that be nice? i dream of a day when i can go to the pharmacy and buy a little kit that allows me to pee on a strip and check back a minute later: two bars crazy, one bar not crazy.

the science of psyche (or psycho) is still so theoretical that professionals in the field can't even agree on what the disorders in question are, or whether they've been defined correctly. there seems little doubt that people can identify when they're having symptoms- they generally recognise depression and anxiety and, in fact, millions of them, almost half the population of the united states, according to some surveys, flock to doctors for relief from these conditions at some point in their lives. and doctors oblige them, handing out medications to deal with their ills and reassuring them that, yes, mental illnesses are real and treatment is available.



the problem is that mental disorders are becoming so prevalent that it's almost too easy to diagnose them and miss that they may not be the problem in and of themselves, but symptoms of another problem with an entirely separate cause. that's right: there are a litany of other diseases that have the crazies as a side effect. because your life wasn't miserable enough with just one half of that equation.

sometimes, the links are easy to spot. trauma to the brain can cause changes in personality, seizures, even schizophrenia-like symptoms. for reasons that no one understands, the risk of suicide is substantially increased in people who have experienced head injuries. likewise, people who have long-term health conditions that cause pain and/ or fatigue (such as fibromyalgia) are prone to depression. these are among the easier things to keep an eye out for.

they keep you regular AND sane
however, there are other conditions that are more difficult to pinpoint that can mimic the effects of mental disorders with surprising accuracy. disorders or the thyroid, pituitary and adrenal glands are known to produce psychiatric symptoms ranging from depression to full on psychosis. liver disease can occasionally trigger hallucinations. people in the early stages of multiple sclerosis often show signs of mood disorders, leading to early misdiagnosis in many cases. even vitamin b deficiency can manifest as psychosis or paranoia (so eat your damn grains). the problem is that, in the absence of pronounced symptoms to suggest otherwise, it's unlikely that someone is going to go poking around your liver to determine why you're seeing angels. and while your psychiatrist is busy trying to work out the perfect balance of cymbalta and seroquel to ease your mind, the rest of your body may well be getting sicker and sicker.

so what's to be done? i'll give you a hint: the answer is really, really obvious.

basically, if you're diagnosed with any kind of mental disorder, or if you feel you're exhibiting the symptoms of one (or if people around you say you are), whether or not you choose to take medication, it should be standard operating procedure to get yourself checked out. get blood tests, keep track of any other symptoms you might be experiencing, the whole drill. there is no quick and easy test for the crazies, but there are tests that can determine if there's anything else that might be at fault and, in the absence of you pushing them, a lot of doctors are not going to take the time to do the necessary process of elimination.

keep in mind that, even if it's not well understood, mental health is part of overall health and, as with every other part of the body, a symptom in one area doesn't necessarily make that area the source of the problem. so yes, you might be crazy, but until they develop that over-the-counter strip test, it's best to rule out other things before you leap into the world of treatment.

once again, sorry about that "whoops" on the day of the week thing. mental health monday will occur next monday, as scheduled.

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