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“Hypochondriac,” a common term in our modern vocabulary, denotes people who obsess over their health and constantly worry that they may be sick. This ‘pop psychology’ understanding is actually not very far off from the older psychiatric diagnosis of the same name, Hypochondriasis. Illness Anxiety Disorder is one of two new disorders (the other being Somatic Symptom Disorder) that are meant to replace the older disorder, Hypochondriasis, with a modern and more nuanced understanding.
These people see doctors very often but are usually unsatisfied with the results. They report multiple medical encounters for the same concerns with repeated tests turning up nothing. People become increasingly frustrated with each unproductive visit. They may think the doctors are dismissing their concerns, which leads them to find new doctors who are unfamiliar with their cases. This creates a cycle of symptoms and worry, clean bills of health and reassurance, followed by irritation and doctor-shopping. Unfortunately, all this medical care is for physical ailments. Years may pass before these people see a mental health provider.
Bridging this gap from physical healthcare to mental healthcare is incredibly difficult. When a provider suggests that the problem may be mental rather than physical, these people feel betrayed, humiliated, and angry. It takes delicate work and a close relationship with a doctor for this to go well, but it is the most crucial step in ending the years of suffering.