#edbookfest: Suzanne O’Sullivan: “Ruling out disease is not the same as ruling out illness.”

suzanne osullivanSuzanne O’Sullivan – How To Feel Better Within – 18th August 2015.

Feeling physically ill when the problem is an emotional one is a genuine issue – it’s said up to a third of people visiting a doctor may have psychosomatic illness. Suzanne O’Sullivan talks of her experience in the field and some of the topics from her book It’s All In Your Head in some initial steps to help demystify and destigmatise the topic.

Suzanne begins with a video. Follow the instructions and try it yourself first:

It’s a pretty even split in the room as for who saw the gorilla on the video. “This shows the degree to which our minds play tricks on us,” explains Suzanne. Psychosomatic disease is a disorder where real physical symptoms can’t be explained by physical exams. The key to diagnosis is that the symptoms are real, but they can’t be accounted for.

She wants to make it clear before starting that being psychosomatic doesn’t detract from the reality of the symptom, the experience is very real; it’s not faked for illness, it’s un/subconsciously generated and out of control for the patient; the diagnosis is one that she does not take lightly. To be medically unexplained, they have to put the greatest efforts into trying to explain it.

“Ruling out disease is not the same as ruling out illness,” she continues, taking us through one case study featured in her book, and explaining the procedures they undertake to help patients.

There are so many topics touched on in this event, but one vital part is the stigma: it’s something that patients will see from family, employers, even doctors and nurses, and patients can find it difficult to accept. People question if they think they’re doing it on purpose, or that it isn’t real.

People can’t believe it’s possible, yet as she showed with the test, everyone’s mind can be tricked on one level – she notes that if she said the person next to you had nits you’d feel like your head was itchy – so why is it so difficult to believe it can be more severe? “It doesn’t matter what sort of person you are, your mind is playing tricks on you,” reinforces Suzanne.

As for why this happens, “everyone is different, there’s no unifying reason.” The research isn’t at the level it needs to be, nor is its importance. “What we can do is start to solve is the stigma,” she continues. This level of dialogue can open the door to improve resources and researchers. There’s no campaigning for this like other illnesses on TV and so on because the stigma is so strong.

From triggers to treatments, she attempts to give an encompassing view of the area, but she wants to offer one beaming positivity in an event she said she knew would lean towards the negative at times: “You can get better.”

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