Your physical and emotional states of health are inter-related. Multiple factors are involved in staying well and in becoming ill and multiple factors are involved in becoming well. Serious physical illness can occur when a physical weakness is impacted by emotional stress.
I tried to be the strong one. A man shouldn’t show his feelings, you know. I had to keep them under control. It was hard work. Fortunately, my wife realized that the pain in my stomach was serious and insisted on taking me to the emergency room. In a half hour they were operating on me. I nearly bled to death from a perforated ulcer.
The man’s emotional stress (trying to suppress feelings and emotions)combined with physical weaknesses (stomach lining eroded by excess hydrochloric acid) to create a serious physical illness (a hemorrhaging stomach ulcer. In some situations the process is reversed.
He just wouldn’t stop working! Day and night! He wouldn’t ask his brother to help. I get so exasperated with him! For three weeks he’s been trying to get all the farm work done before the rains came. The wheat needed to be seeded and then the last cutting of hay had to be cut, baled, and hauled in. I told him he was going to breakdown, work himself to death but he never listens to me anyway. He’s all I’ve got since my husband died 18 years ago. He went off to college and got all that education then came back home to farm. He never would marry either. He feels like everything falls on him to do since his brother is married and has a family to take care of. Finally, he just went to pieces, didn’t make any sense at all and I couldn’t control him. I just had to get him in here.
In this situation, the prolonged physical stress combined with other emotional elements to produce a mental breakdown.
Our bodies inherit certain ways of handling stress. Pain from extra acid in their stomachs alerts some people to the fact that they are over-stressed. Here are signals that others may have: Feeling weak or “light-headed” from lowered blood sugar; headache or increases in blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate related to adrenalin output; aching neck or back muscles, or clenched fists from muscular tension; indecisiveness, inability to concentrate, and failure of memory from anxiety or depression created by stress, decrease in oxygenated blood flow to the brain, or low blood sugar.
Blood sugar, acidity, adrenalin, serotonin, endorphins, and other terms related to body chemistry are parts of the “stress picture puzzle.” The physical scientists are putting them together to explain how stress is channeled by the body into various illnesses. Brain and nerve functions depend vitally upon sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium,phosphorus,potassium, proteins called amino-acids, sugar in glucose form, fats called lipids, Vitamin B complexes and oxygen. Proper function depends upon the availability and delicate balance of these elements.
Readers who wish to understand the technical aspects of nerve transmission, receptors, and transmitters may refer to The Biochemical Basis of Neuropharmacology 8th Edition by Cooper, Bloom and Roth published in 2003 by Oxford Press. Used copies are reasonably priced at Amazon Books. For both physical and mental functioning, and the medications effective in them, you may refer to the 2011 12th Edition The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics by Goodman and Gilman. It is updated every 5 years and is widely used as a medical textbook. Local high school and college libraries should have materials that are somewhat easier to read on basic physiology.
Our “body language”—aches and pains, gestures, postures, facial expressions— tells our health care provider what we might not be aware of ourselves and helps them in diagnosis.
An illness—diabetes, schizophrenia, peptic ulcer, or bi-polar illness for examples—is a group of physical signs (signs can be seen or heard by the examiner, such as pallor, heart and breath sounds, and outward behavior) and symptoms (symptoms can’t be seen by the examiner and are reported by the patient, such as lack of concentration, mental slowness, low spirits, dizziness, nausea, pain) that often occur together and have been given a name as a shorthand way of communicating about them. An illness is only “caught” if it can be transferred by a germ or virus from one person to another. Syphilis, measles, influenza, and colds are all examples of transmittable diseases, also called communicable diseases or infectious diseases. (In a different sense, depression, anxiety, and fear can pass from person to person psychologically.) Any illness has multiple facts which together develop into the set of signs and symptoms given that label.
When physical factors are not recognized in their effects on mental conditions, we overlook an essential stepping stone to well-being.
The infectious diseases, some toxic substances (such as excess copper, pesticides, herbicides and lead), alteration in body chemistry (especially electrolytes sodium, magnesium, potassium, chloride, calcium), medication interactions, sunstroke, dehydration, and sleep deficit, all can cause “Delirium.”
Delirium usually comes on suddenly, often with fever, and often involves a time of being “out of one’s head.” The person may not see clearly or remember what happened. People in delirium may not recognize people they should know and may see or hear things that others don’t.
Seeing and hearing things that others do not is called “hallucinations.” Hallucinations also may be associated with severe mental illnesses. The movie, “The Fisher King” gives an idea of what it is like to experience a frightening hallucination.Delusions, Christian It is like having a nightmare while still awake. Not all hallucinations are frightening, but they still may be dangerous. For example, if the person feels able to fly and hears a voice saying, “You can do it. Step out…” of the window or off a roof.
“Delusions” and hallucinations often go together. A delusion is a false belief, such as believing that “I can fly.” This delusion is more often associated with drugs. Delusions more commonly occur in conditions that cause paranoia, the fear and/or belief that “They are against me.”
Delirium, delusions, and hallucinations are frightening experiences for the patient, the family and friends. At such times, we—family, friends, and caretakers—need to keep a firm grip on our own reality and speak gently and persuasively to the patient in order to gain co-operation if possible. For safety reasons, force is to be avoided unless other measures fail.
Physical conditions that adversely affect mental and emotional functioning do not always have accompanying physical signs. Therefore, patients and/ or the physicians may conclude that the problem is primarily emotional and mental, and is a symptom that they are “losing their mind” or “going crazy.” This can lead to a spiritual crisis for the patient and family as they wonder “Why?” “What did we do wrong?” and similar questions.
For a Christian who believes that mental health is a natural consequence of faith, it is especially painful. Likewise, a belief that physical illness is punishment for sin against morality leads to a severe test of spirituality.
If the health care personnel do not have a complete history of the “presenting problem,” they will have difficulty determining what has caused the “nervous breakdown.” They need all the information possible in order to correctly diagnose the problem. The treatments for one problem may be very different from the treatments for other problems.
When delirium occurs, the essential information is usually available only from the person who brings the patient to the care giver. If the care giver doesn’t ask you about the patient’s eating patterns (particularly “fasting”, fad dieting, excessive or inadequate fluid consumption), and use of insecticides, pesticides, high dose vitamins and minerals, laxatives, drugs, medications, alcohol, exposure to infections, or exposure to extreme heat, PLEASE interrupt and tell what you know. For lack of that information, the patient can be given a label of some type of mental illness and given treatment that can further alter the mental processes without providing a remedy for the underlying physical condition.
In the next article I’ll explore the matter of how medications affect health.