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atuttle's picture

Responding to the Vocabulary of illness

I find that the last topic which Amelia broaches is a common theme in several posts: The idea that the extensive medical lexicon and publicity of illness leads to greater expression of these illnesses. I'm hesitant to agree with these assertions, however, given the evidence of other psychosomatic disorders in clinical populations. Although the suggestion of an illness may lead some people to believe that they have a "problem" (i.e., the PMS example that some people talk about), there are also examples of people who suffer for no reason at all.

Recent research looking at Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), for example, enumerates many symptoms and causes for the disorder. Among these correlational factors for the disease is a certain personality type. People who are described as having Alexithymia (the inability to assess emotional states in the self) are more likely to develop psychosomatic illnesses than those who are "in touch" with themselves. By having a working lexicon for illness, it appears that some types of disorders are alleviated.

Although it would make sense that hyping illnesses would increase the number of people who believe they are suffering, not having diagnostic definitions for illness could similarly lead to an increase in suffering. Depressed people in India are depressed whether they are branded with the name or not; by having a medical definition, these people may seek assistance to improve their lives and help them to function better in their daily lives.


~Alex Tuttle

Haverford '08


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