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It’s Not Necessarily All in Your Head

Medication Side Effects

Medications, too, can be the culprit when people start to feel or behave in uncharacteristic ways. Often people forget to mention to their primary care doctor or their psychiatrist that they are taking a cold or allergy medicine. Because many of these drugs are sold without a prescription, many people don’t think of them as “drugs,” but they are. And all drugs can interact with other drugs in unexpected, and sometimes even dangerous ways.

The same is true for recreational use of illegal drugs. People who use these substances often don’t report them, either because they don’t want their doctor to know or because it has become such an ordinary part of their lives that they simply fail to realize that talking about it may be important. Hallucinogens, cocaine, and stimulants can make a person look psychotic.

Finally, just because something is “natural” doesn’t make it harmless. Homeopathic remedies, herbal teas, and various nutritional supplements, though usually safe in themselves, can contain ingredients that interact with other medicines. Nicotine and ginseng root, for example, can cause symptoms of anxiety. Further, although some people say they drink because they are depressed, they may not realize that alcohol is a very common cause of depression.

Sleep Disorders

Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Sleep restores the body and the mind. People who have interrupted sleep or difficulty getting to sleep on a regular basis may start to show symptoms that can be mistaken for mental illness. Irritability, confusion, difficulties with memory and concentration, and lethargy can look like depression. But it may all have to do with the need for regular, restorative sleep.

Be cautious about turning to the sleep medications advertised on TV. Many will get you to sleep but the quality of sleep won’t necessarily be what you need. Work with your doctor to develop a healthy sleep routine that will give your body and mind the rest you need.

A Caution

Just because you are sick doesn’t mean that you aren’t also suffering from a mental illness. Just because you have a mental illness doesn’t mean you aren’t sick. Sometimes both are true. When a person has symptoms, it’s essential that whoever is trying to help looks at the total picture. Even though the professions now divide us up into parts, each handled by a different kind of medical specialist, it’s important to remember that the human body is made up of complex interrelated systems. Good care requires a holistic investigation of what is going on.

So why doesn’t everyone deal with symptoms holistically? The fault lies both with the medical profession and us, the patients. In these days of managed care and tightly controlled costs, time with a medical doctor has become precious. It’s not at all unusual for a doctor to be expected to see an average of three to four patients per hour. The time constraints make it very, very difficult for the doctor to be thorough.

Accurate diagnosis of complex medical problems requires a combination of education, commitment, experience and, yes, time, to follow a hunch. In the crush of having to see so many patients and deal with the accompanying paperwork, it’s understandable that things might get missed. In the stress of having to meet the daily quota of patients, it’s only human if a doctor doesn’t probe too deeply or ask lots of questions of a patient who presents what appears to be a simple problem.

It’s Not Necessarily All in Your Head

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). It’s Not Necessarily All in Your Head. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.