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Diagnosing Mental Health Problems - Why You Need to Start with a Medical Checkup

Many times when people ask for opinions about various symptoms that reflect potential depression, anxiety or relationship problems, most will be told that a check-up with their primary healthcare provider should follow.

Why do mental health professionals continue to refer people to medical professionals?

  1. Physical illnesses, infections, vitamin deficiencies, medications, and serious diseases can all contribute to feeling unwell, not having enough energy, having too much energy, or interfere with thinking and behavior.
  2. Consequently, any of those things can look like or lend themselves to symptoms of psychological distress, which in turn can affect relationships, work life, and basic functioning.
  3. And although seeking counseling can help with the psychological distress, counseling alone cannot address physical ailments in the proper manner – it would be like hiring a painter to fix the foundation of your house.

Physical Causes of Depression

“Down” feelings, for example, can be associated with a variety of physical ailments. Some medical diagnoses that can lead to depressive symptoms are fibromyalgia, diabetes, heart problems, thyroid disorders, adrenal disorders, celiac disease, and pancreatic problems.

Notice anything about that list? It covers a wide range of disorders affecting a wide variety of body systems. There would be no way to “guess” what could be wrong – which means a trip to the doctor for a thorough check up is the only way to uncover any potential medical condition.

Medications for asthma, cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even birth control pills can also have side effects which may appear depressive in nature. Again, a visit to the doctor would be needed to help figure out potential contributors (never start, stop or change your medications without seeing your doctor!)

Physical Causes of Anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety such as nervousness, unstable emotions and irritability can be related to a number of medical conditions as well. Hyperthyroidism, Lyme disease, diabetes, seizure disorders, and even taking antidepressants may be associated with anxiety-like symptoms. Corticosteroid medications, allergy medications, vitamin deficiencies, parasites and food intolerance can also be contributors.

Notice anything about this list? Like the list for depression, it is wide-ranging, covers some of the same medical territory, and can include common age-related illness, lifestyle related illnesses, as well as serious conditions.

Physical Health Influences Mental Health

The above examples are just a few potential possibilities – the tip of the iceberg, so to speak – but hopefully enough to illustrate how many medical issues can affect how we feel, how we think and how we behave. Of course, in the face of any illness, counseling can help you cope and assist in creating strategies for wellness, but if there are physical problems, those usually need to be assessed and addressed medically. Physical health and mental health often go hand in hand.

So, seek a mentally healthy life, but don't neglect the physical side – and understand and follow up with getting a thorough medical check up!

From Victim Advocacy with survivors of abuse and violence, case management with senior citizens and their families, counseling with at-risk youth and their families, to therapy with adults fighting addiction - bereavement, depression, relationship issues, parenting issues, divorce, blended families, disability, career changes, life changes, my professional experience has encountered it all (so to speak). Fitness, health, coping with chronic illness, aging parents, raising children, job loss, job stress,.... and the list goes on!

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