Health anxiety, or Illness Anxiety Disorder, affects approximately 5.7% of Australian at some point in their lives and some people will find the coronavirus pandemic has triggered the condition or exacerbated their symptoms.
Although it is quite normal for people to cough or sneeze or get the flu, now that there is the coronavirus, some people will be overly anxious and stressed should they have a sniffle or a common cold. This is not surprising given that the media is daily full of stories about the coronavirus’ growing death toll and its impact in Australia and overseas. Furthermore, we are being advised to: wash our hands, refrain from touching our face, disinfect surfaces such as benches, taps, door handles, practice social distancing and stay at home unless going to work , shopping for essential supplies, exercising or attending medical appointments or compassionate visits.
What is Illness Anxiety / Health Anxiety?
You may be preoccupied with the thought you may have an illness ( e.g. COVID-19) or will develop an illness ( e.g. COVID-19)
Physical symptoms are not present or if they present they are only mild in intensity. If another health condition is present or if there is a high risk for developing an illness e.g. COVID-19 ( e.g. immune system compromised, aged 70 years or older) the preoccupation is clearly excessive or out of proportion to the risk.
There is a high level of anxiety about one’s health and you are easily worried about your health status.
You are performing excessive health related behaviours such as: e.g.repeatedly taking your temperature, washing your hands excessively, disinfecting surfaces multiple times per day when not in a high traffic or high risk environment, seeking regular reassurance from your doctor or engaging in avoidance which is maladaptive e.g. not leaving your house at all, avoiding doctor appointments and hospitals.when you definitely do need treatment. For example, a cancer patient with Illness Anxiety Disorder who needs to have a cancer treatment might avoid going to hospital because they fear contracting the coronavirus. However, it is almost certain that if they don’t have their cancer treatment their health will deteriorate whereas the risk of them contracting COVID-19 at the hospital is low given the stringent measures that have been put in place at hospitals. For example, at the Peter MacCallum Cance Centre you cannot enter the hospital unless your temperature is taken and you sanitize your hands.
The preoccupation with developing an illness has been present for a least 6 months but the specific illness that is feared may change over time
Your preoccupation with illness ( e.g. coronavirus) is not better explained by another mental health condition such as panic, generalised anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder, ocd or delusional disorder, somatic type.
Fortunately help is available. The Australian government has made psychological help via a phone call or videoconferencing Medicare rebateable for all Australians.
Telehealth sessions are bulk billed for all Commonwealth concession card holders.
You can contact your doctor via telephone or videoconferencing to do a mental health care plan and get a separate referral letter stating 6 sessions.Therefore, there is no need to attend your doctor’s surgery.
There is no need to leave your home or workplace for treatment.
However, face to face sessions are still available if you wish to avail yourself of them.
Call 0429883671 to make an appointment
Heath Anxiety in Australia: Prevalence, Comorbidity, DIsability and Service Use. Matthew Sutherland et al. British Journal of Psychiatry January 2013.