Suzanne O’Sullivan is a famous neurologist and is also the author of the book It’s all in your head . This book emphasizes the following idea: “the brain can make us sick”. It is about discovering the little-known world of psychosomatic illnesses.
Psychosomatic illnesses have been known for a long time. However, in the 21st century, they still raise a lot of questions and still cause a lot of misunderstanding. Many people think that these diseases are simulations. They are then unaware of the fact that, as Suzanne O’Sullivan tells us, “the brain can make us sick”.
Psychosomatic illnesses are not false illnesses. The root cause of the physical symptoms felt is in the mind. For example, psychosomatic pain in the legs is very real, but this pain is not associated with a physical condition, but with a mental condition. The person feels the same pain as if the cause of the pain was physical. Hence the claim that “the brain can make us sick”.
Suzanne O’Sullivan reminds us that all emotions generate physical changes. For example, at the start of a romantic relationship, we experience “ butterflies in the stomach ” when we are near the loved one. It is a physical sensation caused by a feeling and an emotion. The same thing happens when, for example, we speak in public: the heart beats harder and the legs tremble.
No one questions the connection between emotions and physical manifestations for the examples just given. On the other hand, when it comes to psychosomatic illnesses, some deny this connection … Many people think that fear can cause tremors in the body, but these same people refuse to recognize that this fear, in certain circumstances, can be. causing much more serious symptoms.
This is a contradiction that concerns many doctors. A strong tradition urges us to separate the mind from the body and to regard the phenomena of the mind as “fictions” and the phenomena of the body as “realities”. If these two structures were separated, we would not have butterflies in our bellies and we would not be shaking from an intense emotional load.
“The brain can make us sick…”
For Suzanne O’Sullivan, the idea that “the brain can make us sick” was quite a discovery. At the start of her career as a neurologist, she saw patients with severe symptoms. Many of his patients, for example, presented with seizures. But his research was inconclusive: no neurological model could explain these symptoms.
She often wondered if these patients were pretending, but over time she realized that they weren’t. These patients suffered from their symptoms in the same way as those for whom it was possible to identify a neurological cause.
It was then that she realized that the brain could make us sick. This means that sometimes the cause of a symptomatic picture is in the mind and not in the body : the manifestations of the disease are roughly the same; what varies is the cause and, therefore, the recommended intervention protocol.
The brain can make us sick: a widespread problem
Suzanne O’Sullivan tells us that many of her patients were disappointed, even upset, when she informed them that their problem was psychosomatic. His patients even wanted to repeat the examinations or consulted another doctor for a second opinion. Still, this diagnosis should have been good news for them, but it wasn’t. Many of his patients felt they were considered “crazy”.
It would seem then that we are good at covering up emotional symptoms, but much less at identifying them. This discomfort often manifests itself in the form of a physical symptom when in reality it is a psychosomatic symptom. Affected patients should recognize this fact rather than ignore it. The problem is, most of these patients are unprepared for this and therefore remain in disbelief at the diagnosis.
According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), one in five people has at least six physical symptoms, the cause of which is not organic. This means that the root cause of these symptoms is psychosomatic. Another study shows that among hospitalized patients, at least 30% of them suffer from a psychosomatic illness.
A diagnosis not accepted
In many cases, the problem is patient resistance: many patients refuse the diagnosis. Their fear that there is an organic cause that has been ignored by doctors who would then be motivated by a simplified intervention by then resorting to drugs or surgical interventions are two of the main builders of this resistance. This supposes a problem, because the active collaboration of the patient to solve this problem is necessary.
Either way, the suffering is real. Therefore, our duty as a society is to continue to research the subject while debunking the myths about psychosomatic issues. There is no doubt that “the brain can make us sick”.