Amplify Blog - Youth Mental Health - Psychosomatic Symptoms
The below blog is by Sigrid, QFCC Youth Advocate. This blog is a reflection of Sigrid's experiences and should not be taken as health advice.
It took me 18-months to recognise what was happening to my body.
When I step onto my university campus my stomach churns. Sharp tingles radiant up through my abdomen and a sickly warmth spreads through my gut. Even though I make a point to eat regular meals, I feel hungry all the time – the same hunger you feel after fasting. It often feels like nothing I eat satiates me. Living with an anxiety disorder means I’m not a stranger to uncomfortable feelings, but I’ve never experienced changes to my appetite. Suddenly, anxiety and hunger feel the same in my body. When I’m on campus, I cannot differentiate these sensations, and because of this I second-guess everything I feel and everything I eat.
Completely out of my conscious control, my brain has associated a place (campus) with a feeling (constant anxiousness), and now I’ve got to live with the physical repercussions of this.
This is the information I wish I knew 18-months ago…
Young people today have the highest rate of mental health literacy of any generation yet.
Through the relentless efforts of advocates and health professionals, awareness continues to spread regarding the prevalence of mental illness in young people. It is becoming much more commonplace to ask RUOK?, and self-care is no longer regarded as a chore but as a trend.
But the more we learn, the more we realise how much we don’t yet understand.
For young people with lived experiences of mental ill-health, becoming your own health advocate is a rite of passage. As if the complex process of professional diagnosis was not difficult enough, as young people we are often perceived as too young to know how to properly voice concerns about our own health. For many of us, societally-imposed barriers surrounding gender, cultural background, education level, disability and financial status make this twice as challenging. At some point in every young person’s mental health journey there comes the realisation that the only person you can always rely on to support you is yourself.
One of the most important things young people can do is take charge of monitoring their own mental and physical health.
Most young people experiencing mental ill-health will experience unexplained physical symptoms at some point in their mental health journey. When the brain perceives a threat to the body, it recruits its Chief Emergency Officer – the Sympathetic Nervous System – to sound the alarm by releasing the hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) to activate the Fight-or-Flight response. This response spurs the body into action - the heart pumps faster, the lungs take in more air, the pupils of our eyes widen, certain muscles in the body contract and certain ones relax – all so the body can save itself from danger. However, when this response doesn’t function the way it is supposed to, perceived stress can wreak havoc on the body.
This causes Psychosomatic Symptoms – physical symptoms with no clear medical explanation that are caused or made worse by mental state.
Common symptoms include chronic fatigue, breathing difficulties, high resting blood pressure and heart rate, digestive issues and nausea, headaches and migraines, dizziness, shaking, and unexplained muscles aches. This psychosomatic component of mental ill-health is complex for young people to navigate – not only does it feel like our brains have turned against us, but so have our bodies.
Unfortunately, psychosomatic symptoms are also a scientifically complex phenomenon, and for that reason seeking help can be challenging. The reality for many young people experiencing psychosomatic symptoms is that we often find ourselves in one of two positions with support systems and/or health professionals: our mental health is dismissed as irrelevant to our physical symptoms; or the severity of our physical symptoms is dismissed as “purely in our heads”.
It is easy to see why for young people, the mental health journey is one of the most challenging journeys to push through.
But for young people who believe they may be experiencing psychosomatic symptoms, the journey can be made a little easier by practicing these things:
- Find a supportive health professional who will listen wholeheartedly to you – if your current health professional doesn’t do this, don’t be afraid to find a new one.
- Use a “health diary” to track your physical symptoms alongside your mental state – this can help you determine whether your symptoms are psychosomatic or not. It can also be useful to have all your observations and concerns in one place when visiting health professionals.
- Be your own health advocate and “trust your gut” when something doesn’t feel right – don’t be disheartened if it takes a couple of tries before you get the help that you need.
This mental health week, it’s time to take charge and be your own health advocate.
The rise of
and what this means for young people with high mental health literacy
Psychosomatic Symptoms are physical symptoms with no clear medical explanation,
that are caused or made worse by mental state:
- Chronic fatigue
- Breathing difficulties
- High resting blood pressure and heart rate
- Digestive issues and nausea
- Headaches and migraines
- Muscles aches and pains
When the brain notices a threat to the body, it recruits the Sympathetic Nervous System to release hormones (Adrenaline and Cortisol) which activate the Fight-or-Flight response.
This response is meant to spur the body into action so it can save itself from danger.
But when this response doesn’t function the way it is supposed to, this wreaks havoc on the body in the form of Psychosomatic Symptoms.
Most young people experiencing mental ill-health will experience psychosomatic symptoms at some point in their mental health journey.
But seeking help can be challenging for young people:
Sometimes your mental health is dismissed as irrelevant to your physical symptoms.
Sometimes the severity of your physical symptoms is dismissed as being “purely in your head.”
For young people who identify as
- LGBTQIA+ and gender-diverse
- Culturally diverse
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
seeking help can be twice as hard.
For young people who believe they may be experiencing psychosomatic symptoms:
- Find a supportive health professional who will listen unequivocally to you – this make take a couple of tries.
- Keep a “health diary” to track your physical symptoms alongside your mental state.
- Trust your gut when something doesn’t feel right. Fight to be heard.
This mental health week:
It’s time to take charge and be your own health advocate.