Hypochondria in the Tribe

Child: Dad. I can’t get up. I’m very sick…
Dad: What’s wrong?
Child: Everything – influenza, migraine, indigestion, measles, amputation, and malaria…
Dad: …Hypochondria?
Child: oh right.. yeah that too

You may have heard this conversation before. It often occurs on Monday mornings, which are proven to bring the hypochondriac out in anybody. However, it would be a bit rich to claim that this is a true case of hypochondria.

So what does it mean to be a hypochondriac?

Hypochondria is a genuine anxiety condition. A hypochondriac is a person who is pre-occupied with their physical health. They often imagine that they have something seriously wrong with them, despite being assured by medical experts that they are fine. The condition often interferes with peoples’ lives in a negative way.

In Tribe IV, Ram is continually worried about picking up germs and being infected by disease. Some would consider him paranoid in his attitude towards his health.
For example, after proposing to Ebony, he warns her to stay away as he suspects that she has a flu bug. Ebony is pleased to have the space, as she is unsure of her response.
She feigns further sickness in order to stay at arm’s length.

Ram wears gloves and is a stickler for cleanliness. In many ways his actions are consistent with another separate condition, obsessive compulsive behaviour. In obsessive-compulsives, rituals such as washing hands are performed regularly and refraining from these rituals results in heightened anxiety.

When Ram does become ill late in the series, you end up wondering how much is psychosomatic and how much is due to physical illness. He does seem to be a genuine hypochondriac. Ram’s depression and withdrawal as a result of Ebony and Jay’s betrayal certainly have a major impact on his downward spiral.

Ram believes that he has life threatening symptoms but how much of this is due to his unhappiness and depression?

Attitude and emotional well being can play a huge part in physical health.

You can imagine that having this condition would tend to make you feel quite negative. Others may consider you self-absorbed and get frustrated by your complaints. This could lead to a feeling of social isolation.

Recognising Hypochondria

A hypochondriac worries about their health and is often very afraid about the affects of illness. They may complain regularly about symptoms such as head and stomachaches, tiredness, and dizziness. They often misconstrue these minor problems as being more dangerous than they really are. For example, if they have a stomach complaint they may go for the worst option, thinking it a stomach ulcer or even cancer, when in fact it a may just be a bug or because they feel a bit tense.

Hypochondriacs may think that ‘normal’ people always feel ‘on top of the world’ and that they are therefore abnormal. They need to be reassured that everybody has moods and time when they don’t feel as good as others.

Hypochondriacs often ‘shop around’ for doctors, often visiting many different ones for opinions on what can turn out to be, reasonably minor symptoms.

Dealing with somebody with Hypochondria

You may recognise some of the above traits in somebody that you know. So what are the best ways of dealing with this condition?

Reacting by saying “It’s all in the mind” is not particularly constructive. It may be partially true but it is important that we recognise that the person has a genuine problem and that just telling them to ‘get over it’ is unlikely to work to their advantage.

If the person complains to you regularly about a host of different conditions, the first thing to do is actually to accept the illnesses mentioned. Because hypochondriacs often choose the most serious explanation to their problems, you may wish to provide the more likely, less serious alternatives. In the stomach ache example, for instance, you may suggest that it was something the complainant ate or just a bug. They may not have seriously considered these options, which many of us would regard as obvious.

It is likely that the hypochondria may come on if the person is tired or depressed, so supporting and listening to them will be of great help to get them through their difficulties.
Long term, it is important that the person sees a professional about the condition. So you may want to broach the subject sensitively with them or approach someone who is closer to them to raise it. The patient needs to be made aware of their hypochondria. Once they recognise it in themselves, they will be more likely to be able to deal with the feelings and interpret their own symptoms.