‘Diagnostic overshadowing’: Why do people with mental illness get worse medical care?

A depressing but important article by Juliann Garey appeared in the New York Times recently on the subject of “diagnostic overshadowing“. It discusses the findings from several new studies which reveal that people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses consistently receive worse medical treatment than the rest of the patients. The problem is even worse with people, the more serious their mental illness is. As a result, many people with a serious mental illness don’t avoid going to the doctor even when they need it.  While the avoidance of institutionalised medical care is nothing new, as sociologists of health know well, this problem is particularly worrying because:

“According to a review of studies done by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London […] people with a serious mental illness — including bipolar disorder, major depressionschizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder — end up with wrong diagnoses and are under-treated.

That is a problem, because if you are given one of these diagnoses you probably also suffer from one or more chronic physical conditions: though no one quite knows why, migraines,irritable bowel syndrome and mitral valve prolapse often go hand in hand with bipolar disorder.

Less mysterious is the weight gain associated with most of the drugs used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which can easily snowball into diabeteshigh blood pressure, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. The drugs can also sedate you into a state of zombiedom, which can make going to the gym — or even getting off your couch — virtually impossible.”

(Source: When Doctors Discriminate, New York Times, 10 August 2013)

Juliann Garey’s other work is worth a look, too. She co-edits “Voices of Bipolar Disorder: The Healing Companion” and her novel “Too bright to hear, too loud to see” deals with issues of mental illness.

Categories: Rethinking The World

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