DSM‘s Somatoform Disorders: Millions More Might Be Diagnosed


On Dr. David Healy’s website from yesterday there is an article about the very problematic Somatic Symptom Disorder category in the DSM 5. I’ve written about this before because it’s of particular interest to many folks who’ve suffered iatrogenic damage from psychiatric drugs. Psychiatric drug withdrawal syndromes are sometimes devastating crippling physical illnesses that can last months and years. We have all faced being told our issues are psychiatric. We have routinely suffered from little or no care from our health care providers. We have had to take care of each other completely out of the system. Remaining in the care of doctors has often been dangerous. Somatic Symptom Disorder category further institutionalizes this dangerous trend.

One of the common manifestations of debilitation when struck with withdrawal syndromes are numerous, often bizarre, acute, painful and disabling physical sensations. They include varieties of neuropathies and parasthesias. They are not in the patients head.  And since the psych drug use caused these disabling symptoms prescribing more drugs to cure them is exactly the wrong way to go but it’s what psychiatrists are inclined to do. This, of course, already happens. Many people are wrongly diagnosed when they start manifesting adverse reactions or acute responses to withdrawal from drugs.  They are routinely disbelieved when they start reporting such adverse events. The phenomena of protracted withdrawal syndrome is widely denied. See: Psychiatric drug withdrawal and protracted withdrawal syndrome round-up.

From Dr. David Healy’s site, by Richard Lawhern:

With SSD,  you can be labeled with a mental problem simply because you have deep distress about your health that a doctor judges to be “excessive” or the doctor thinks your life has become dominated by your illness and symptoms. The same label may be applied to you if a doctor considers you as “over-involved” in the symptoms of a child for whom you are a care-giver. Cases have already occurred in which children have been removed from the custody of parents deemed to have facilitated their “illness behaviors”.

While psychosomatic disorders appear in previous editions of the DSM, the new SSD is particularly problematic. The scope of the disorder and diagnostic criteria are greatly broadened from the DSM-IV. SSD may now be applied to patients with either diagnosed or undiagnosed problems. Only one criteria of several need to be applied as a basis for the diagnosis.

There is reason to believe that SSD may be widely assigned to patients in the early stages of relatively complex medical problems such as Lupus, Lyme Disease, cancer, diabetes, cardiac problems, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or fibromyalgia. Many fibromyalgia and CFS patients already report being told that their medical problems are primarily emotional rather than medical in origin. –  (read more)

The plight of so many who have taken psych meds getting seriously ill is not mentioned in the article. I have several articles on this blog that talk about the common features of withdrawal syndromes with illnesses like chronic fatigue and other serious autoimmune illness included in the above list. Psych drug withdrawal is strikingly similar to many serious chronic illnesses, all of which impact the autonomic nervous system which in turn cause broadly systemic issues in the body.

There is an ongoing failure to recognize the iatrogenic illness (medically induced physical illness) that these drugs often cause, especially when people withdraw from them but often simply as a result of going on and off them as is routinely done in the treatment of those who are called “treatment resistant.” The med “merry-go-rounds” that so many people experience in psychiatric care are quite often the cause of what gets called treatment resistance. The body/mind doesn’t like having its nervous system repeatedly jacked around. And that is what switching psych drugs routinely does. It seems that people who have histories of going on and off and switching meds a lot have a higher incidence of serious issues when withdrawing.

Because there is a long history of the health and well-being of those labeled with psychiatric illness being neglected already, these happenings are very serious indeed.

Those labeled with mental illness already have a very hard time getting their health care needs met and are routinely disbelieved even when reporting serious health issues. People have died as a result of not being taken seriously when they have serious medical problems. I have sadly witnessed such ill-treatment when I was working in social services. I saw more than one client die as a result. See: Health care professionals discriminate.

The Somatic Symptom Disorder institutionalizes this dangerous habit so that even more harm might come from this systemic discrimination. The antidote is education. Pass it on.

Learn more:

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This blog appeared today on Monica Cassani’s blog, Beyond Meds




Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. “Many people are wrongly diagnosed when they start manifesting adverse reactions or acute responses to withdrawal from drugs. ”

    Withdrawal from drugs will cause pain ( if it is possible to reduce/abstain). Doctors are not supposed to induce pain in their patient, but the only way for the patient to get “better” is to reduce the amount of (unnecessary) drugs the patient is consuming.

    “Tobacco Chiefs Say Cigarettes Aren’t Addictive” http://www.nytimes.com/1994/04/15/us/tobacco-chiefs-say-cigarettes-aren-t-addictive.html

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    • @ markps2,

      “Tobacco Chiefs Say Cigarettes Aren’t Addictive” – NAMI’s been saying the same thing about psychiatric drugs for years!

      Treatment Resistant = Drug has no benefit, which is blamed on the patient

      Somatoform Disorders = Psychiatric drug causes grave harm, which is blamed on the patient

      Whether the “treatment” is worthless; whether is causes severe injury, the final analysis is *always the same* – It’s the patient’s fault!

      And shrinks wonder why they aren’t liked much …


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    • Hello I am a 37 yr old female. I have been diagnosed with somotoform disorder. 2 years ago I had what they thought to be a TIA, which left me with right sided weakness for years which being the only symptom that improved over time. Three weeks ago I had a episode to which in unknown why but left me with left sided weakness and tremors in my legs that come on by cold standing and walking. The doctors made me come every 6 months to do tests when the right sided weakness started. The mri shows cluster of spots in my brain but the neuro said it was most likely due to a car accident and said over the past 2yrs the clusters haven’t changed. I have had all tests such as eeg,emg, cts, blood work come back normal except for vitamin D deficiency and low blood platelets. My current symptoms are just tremors in my legs, pain in my neck and lower back, and leg spasms. I don’t have any stressors and my psychologist is not sure why I was given this diagnosis. Can someone send me in the right direction to get the correct diagnosis. I am a mother of a 13 yr old daughter and I just want to be able to wall without my legs trembling so bad. I live in ky. I am happy and know how to handle stress. Please help. Thanks

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  2. When I was tapering off psych drugs I started having troublesome symptoms and went to a new physician. She saw my psych diagnosis in my file and immediately told me I needed to return to the psychiatrist. It didn’t matter to her I was dragging one leg, having to use crutches and experiencing severe pain. To think how I suffered and to told by someone who had never met me till 3 seconds ago that “it was all in my head”.

    The more I tried to dislodge myself from psychiatry it kept rearing its ugly head to hinder my recovery. It is a merry go round with disbelief in our physical suffering and being compounded by repeated denial of what we know is true.

    My problem turned out to be a progressive neurological disease that is connected to neuroleptic damage (Seroquel). For this disease I’m in constant treatment and yes, it real and was diagnosed by 4 different neurologists. I had to fight the psych drug tapering elements and then had to include this horrible illness on top of it–double whammy. Iatrogenic harm is definitely real and so many of us have been curtly dismissed by physicians because they think we need to go back on the psych drugs.

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    • I’m so sorry, Aria. Neurological issues are very common in withdrawal…they clear up in time for a lot of us…I’m so sorry yours have been determined progressive.

      Thank you for sharing your story which perfectly illustrates what I’m talking about in the article.

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  3. The real medical doctors quit listening to anything that you have to say once they realize you’ve been in the system. You go to the ER with a pyhsical problem. They do blood work etc. and then come on to talk with you and the very moment they find out you’ve experienced “psychiatric issues” they quit talking with you and state that you need to “go see your psychiatrist.” It’s come to the point that I’ve given up on all doctors, period. It’s extremely frustrating. And, when you try to introduce into the conversation the fact that what you’re experiencing physically is the result of going off psych drugs they sigh and can’t get rid of you fast enough.

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  4. Hi Stephen,

    Heck, alot of them don’t listen even if you have never taken a psych med much less if you have.

    Well, I wish I could say I have given up on all doctors but unfortunately, I have no choice but to have minor surgery soon. And I am scared to death.

    But once this is over and I benefit as expected, I will stay the bleep away from them.

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  5. Thank you, Monica Cassani and Mad In America, for posting this article in such a timely manner. Yesterday a man named Lou Pelletier and his wife Linda experienced the complete nightmare to which this article alludes. On Valentines Day of last year (2013) the Pelletiers brought their 15 year old daughter to Boston Children’s Hospital in an emergency. Justina had been in treatment for Mitochondrial Disease and came down with the flu in Boston, on vacation. The Connecticut couple did exactly as was recommended by Justina’s doctor at Tufts. They went to Children’s Hospital. There a psychiatric resident, newly minted, hijacked the case without even bothering either to read her extensive medical records or consult with her physician. A court order remanded her into the custody of the state of Mass. on the basis of a diagnosis of Somataform Disorder, and the parents were the recipients of a gag order. Lou’s seriously ill daughter was kidnapped by a Hospital who claimed it was all in her mind. He did what any loving father ought to do. He went on national media. Yesterday the court ruled that Justina (with red lines on her abdomen and muscle atrophy; in a wheel chair) will be dumped into the fostercare system .No family will be allowed contact because they must all be in on this psychological conspiracy to make a healthy child sick. Medical treatment will not be allowed because “she’s making it up” .Remove Psychiatry from this equation and it becomes very simple; if criminal activity, like harming a child, is involved then criminal charges are filed, the trial is public and The Rule of Law must be observed. Any infringement can be appealed. Enter Psychiatry and the landscape morphs into the Gulag Archipelago where anyone can be disappeared, no due process is involved, and no one is permitted even to discuss it on pain of repercussion. This is not the future we are talking about, this is NOW. When a lifelong Democrat and Progressive like myself begins chanting, “God Bless Glenn Beck”, the world has truly turned on its’ head. I have been writing about this case and have had some very small contact with Lou Pelletier, who is prepared to go to jail should that be necessary to save his daughter’s life. A facebook page is connecting people from all over (https://www.facebook.com/groups/freejustina/permalink/234967319960959/) and two petitions are being circulated; one to the Wite House, and one to The New York Times (https://www.change.org/petitions/new-york-times-cover-the-justina-pelletier-case-in-boston). It’s invigorating to see how people are springing into grassroots action, but on the other hand it’s also clear that most of the people stepping up to the plate really have no idea of the extent to which Psychiatry is truly above the law. Over and over people are saying, “How can something like this happen?”. Monica is right in saying that Education is the antidote, but right now that antidote looks to many like poison.

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    • I’ve been writing about Justina’s case at http://soundasacrystal.com/, although I’m not as knowledgeable as you are. This hits home for me on so many levels: as a mother who is all too aware of the power of the state to tear families apart over medical issues, as a person who has experienced the brutality of psychiatric “care”, and as a human being who is horrified to see other humans suffer. I sincerely hope that somehow Justina will be returned to her parents.

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  6. Thanks Monica for the great post. When confronted with symptoms of pain, neuralgia, and suffering that Western Medicine has no answer for, doctors have often turned to the old adage “Its all in your head.” SSD is simply another extension of labeling people who are suffering pain with a mental disorder, further branding and stigmatizing them.

    In Chinese medicine, there are myriad descriptions of Physical/Emotional illness that do not fall in line with a Western scientific explanation. Someone could have liver qi stagnation and experience a feeling of repressed anger as well as underlying toxicity in the body. Someone with “Shen disturbance” may experience a feeling of fear and depletion as well as genuine pain in the heart area due to shock and trauma. Liver wind is a description of moving neuralgia, tics and tremors as well as shaking and trembling.

    But in Western Medicine if someone shows complex symptom patterns with no known etiology, we label them with SSD. And then what? A little prozac to get them to stop worrying about all those made up symptoms? A little xanax to calm them down so their not so obsessed with worries about their health? Hmmmmphh…..

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    • thanks Jonathan…you illustrate something really nicely…their are many alternative therapeutic, holistic means to view our mind/body/spirits. Many windows with different frames which can lead to healing. Chinese medicine is a perfect example of one.

      Psychiatry on the other hand tends to stagnate and hold people at best…at worst it harms badly.

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  7. Great post, Monica. It’s precisely for this reason that I avoid any “caregivers” within the industry—not that I need or desire those services anyway—and that I also tend to avoid all doctors. At this point I know well, within myself, what I need to do to heal and to stay healthy. Time, a good diet, and a meaningful life with those I value and love have for me been the best cure for the damage caused by neurotoxic psychotropic drugs. As usual, the DSM is off the rails in flinging out yet another artificially constructed “disorder,” yet unfortunately it’s hardly a surprise.

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    • yup…I avoid doctors too. Though I’ve found 2 that I can consult when I need to…they’re partners in my care and treat me with great respect…understanding that they stand to learn as much as I do in our exchanges.

      makes me think of a post I did on how to find and work with MDs…I’ll share for those who are still learning to navigate that maze.

      We can know more about our bodies than our MDs do…trust that, develop it http://beyondmeds.com/2014/02/20/body-md/

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      • I’m glad you have 2 dependable physicians. I have a few I go to when necessary but have never shared my psychiatric history with them. I have to be careful because of what I’d gone through being seen as a psych patient with a diagnosis. We’d all appreciate any info or ideas on how to find a good match, an old fashion caring doctor.

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