Physical attributes

An integral part of the DSM IV TR states that before you give a psychiatric diagnosis, the diagnostician rules out the possibility of alternate causes of psychiatric disorder. For example, a damaged thyroid gland may create mood instability. This doesn’t mean the person can be diagnosed with a mood disorder, but rather the diagnosis should be some kind of thyroid related diagnosis.

Socioeconomics and lifestyle can lead to three common activities that lead toward behaviours that can be confused for psychiatric symptoms: Sleep deprivation, mal-nutrition and drugs misuse.

Sufficient sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations, low concentration, confused diet, micro-sleeps and many other symptoms. Sleep deprivation can be caused by many factors, some of which can be psychiatric disorder, some can be drug induced, some can be poor diet and there are a host of living situations, stress, and biological sources. However, if you find that sleep deprivation is a significant part of your current situation, consider what may be contributing to your sleep deprivation, rectify that and see if some of your more concerning symptoms clear up.

Mal-nutrition is far more common in the Western world than many people think. If your diet does not consistently contain a variety for fruit, vegetables, grains and occasional meat, then your diet may be significantly out of balance. Consider this analogy to understand why a varied, nutritious diet is important to mental health. If you consider that your body is a complex biological machine, made of many small machines (cells), which build and maintain your body. If important nutrients are not regularly supplied to your body, then your cells cannot maintain necessarily health. It’s like the car repair shop running out of welding rods and not being able to weld new pieces of metal to your rusted out car door. It just doesn’t work. Or another thing to consider is how well will your engine run if it runs out of oil and you don’t add more? Your mind is a finely tuned engine which needs a variety of vitamins, nutrients and proteins to work properly.

Drugs change the functioning of how your cells work. Sometimes we want this change, such as when we are trying to help our white cells identify foreign inimical biology to kill. When the function is how you think, you want to be very careful about what changes in function you are introducing. Most illegal drugs create unwanted long term changes in cell functioning, leading to mental processes that are not what you had hoped for when you took the drug. Drugs that many don’t consider seriously include nicotine, caffeine and alcohol. All three directly change your behaviour. For example, caffeine changes your mood, alters your concentration (increased to begin with, then decreased after a few hours for many hours).

Society does not help us to recognise when we are abusing these drugs. Nicotine is currently in the bad books, so most people believe any nicotine consumption is bad. On average, that is true, however for altering blood pressure and a few other conditions, nicotine is quite useful. I highly recommend that you check with a health professional rather than take my word for it, however. If you are drinking more than 4 cups of coffee a day, then you are probably abusing it. Similarly, if you drink more than 1 standard drink of alcohol a day, then you are probably abusing alcohol as well. I would suggest that the best way you can test yourself for drug addiction is to consider how much your current life would be inconvenienced if you were to stop right now and not use any of the substance for 30 days. If your response includes an expletive or serious consideration of how hard that is going to be, then you are probably addicted and abusing the substance.

Consider that 20% of the population of Australia who smoke cigarettes are people diagnosed with a psychiatric condition. Those 20% of the population consume almost half of the nicotine, which is a disproportionate amount. Again, people with a psychiatric diagnosis consumer approximately five times more caffeine than people without. One of the reasons considered for this is that both caffeine and nicotine have short term benefits to concentration, and nicotine has short term calmative effects, which can often combat the negative effects of medication or stress.

If you find that your life is out of control, by all means get some help as soon as possible, which may include a prescription of medication. Be wary of just ignoring medical advice, however feel free to question your practitioner. If your diagnostician does not consider physical causes to your experience, then perhaps remind them or consider controlling and compensating for these, or other, physical factors.