Psychological Implications in Morgellons Disease, Part I: Somatoform Disorders
Many sufferers of Morgellons complain that doctors won’t “open their eyes and see” that “something” is wrong with them. When physical illnesses have no apparent medical cause, physicians may suspect a somatoform disorder. A somatoform disorder is a pattern of physical complaints with largely psychosocial causes (Tayler & Mann, 1999). People with somatoform disorders do not purposefully induce their symptoms (as with Munchausen syndrome, a condition where people intentionally induce or feign illness) but believe that their problems are truly medical.
Preoccupation somatoform disorders involve people who are healthy, but become preoccupied with a mistaken belief that something is physically wrong with them. The DSM-IV-TR describes symptoms include a history of many physical complaints, usually beginning before the age of 30, that occur over a period of several years and result in treatment being sought or in significant impairment, physical complaints not fully explained by a known medical condition or drug, or extending beyond the usual impact of such a condition.
Some people with Morgellons disease have these symptoms. A history of treatment being sought for lesions, sores, crawling sensations and bugs emerging from the skin or body orifices, fatigue, fibers, and more, is typical of a Morgellons sufferer. Impairment includes people quitting their jobs, moving, staying in a hotel, withdrawal from family and friends. These complaints are not fully explained by a known medical condition or drug, and that is most significant, as it is that way with somatoform disorders. Morgellons sufferers are quoted as going from doctor to doctor for ten years without one finding cause for the complaint (Savely, 2006).
Morgellons sufferers will often admit to becoming hypersensitive or hyper vigilant regarding their skin, as is common with preoccupation somatoform disorders. This hyper vigilance creates an illusion of fantastic situations in what would normally be recognized as the usual and then dismissed. These mis-attributions snowball into a person engaging in dangerous self-medication and rebuffs from doctors, similar to Morgellons disease. In Morgellons disease, sufferers often self-medicate by bathing in bleach (or other caustic materials), ingesting mordacious concoctions, and cutting their own skin.
Even though self-proclaimed experts on Morgellons cite mental health problems as common correlates of Morgellons, the sufferers have a strong adverse reaction to the suggestion of mental health being involved in their condition, which is symptomatic of somatoform disorders. Because of this strong reaction to mental health, it is unlikely that a person who does not feel mentally ill would seek mental health assistance.
- Savely, V., Leitao, M., & Stricker, R. 2006. The mystery of Morgellons disease: infection or delusion? Am. J. Clin. Dermatol. 7(1), 1-5.
- Taylor, R., & Mann, A.H. 1999. Somatization in primary care. J. Psychosom. Res. 47(1), 61-66.