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A Lyme Diagnosis was Delayed Due to Mental Illness

Imagine feeling tired every morning the minute you wake up. Imagine wanting to be in bed by 7 o’clock each night. Imagine your joints hurting and muscles hurting and having swollen lymph nodes. Now imagine everyone telling you it is all in your head.

This very experience is that of Caroline Catlin as she tells it to Healthline. Caroline had previously been diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder. When she was 16 and felt terrible, she went to the doctor. Well, of course, the doctor was concerned and did immediate blood tests. But when they came back inconclusive the doctor brushed it off as a symptom of Caroline’s mental health and sent her on her way.

This was the scenario again and again for years. It took 5 years for a doctor to discover the cause of Caroline’s pain and fatigue was due to Chronic Lyme Disease. After years of feeling misunderstood and frustrated at no one’s willingness to believe Caroline knew her own body, she was relieved to have an answer. However, she also says “the years of misdiagnosis and ignored symptoms had left me frustrated, hurt, and feeling as if I had lost a great deal of my youth searching for a diagnosis within a system deeply affected by mental health stigma.”

Mental Health Month

As we head into May, we recognize Mental Health Month. The irony does not escape us, that May is also Lyme Disease Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, has chosen to focus on the stigma that can go along with Mental Illness this year during Mental Health Month by promoting #CureStigma. Erica Curtis, a board-certified therapist, defined stigma to Healthline as “negative beliefs, attitudes, and accompanying discrimination directed toward individuals who experience mental health challenges. One of the many areas that people experience the negative effects of mental health stigma is in the healthcare system itself.” NAMI’s goal is to help people recognize that 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some form of mental illness and the stigma that often comes with it can create shame and fear and prevent people from seeking treatment. The cure for this stigma is empathy compassion and understanding.

Mental Health Stigma in the Health System

Caroline’s story is a good example of how the assumption that all of her feelings were related to her mental health issues can cause ongoing mental and physical pain for a patient. Dr. Rosalind Kaplan, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, blames the way this stigma spills over into the healthcare system on lack of knowledge and frustration with the inability to help. She believes that doctors are less able to admit to patients when they just aren’t sure what to do. Dr. Kaplan admits there is a lot of work to be done to get beyond the stigma that comes with mental health but urges patients to stand up for themselves and call it what it is, “discrimination”. As for Caroline, she is happy that she was finally diagnosed, but with the combination of her mental health history along with the ambiguity that still surrounds chronic Lyme, she still struggles with the health system.

At Mosquito Squad of Fall River, we are saddened by stories such as Caroline’s and we want to share as much information as we can to avoid situations like this for others. If only Caroline had known she’d been bitten by a tick that carries Lyme she could have passed that information on to her doctors and they may have tested for it sooner. Be aware of the seriousness of Lyme and tick bites in Massachusetts and follow tick safety guidelines when in the outdoors.

REMEMBER: You can’t feel a tick bite, so a tick check is invaluable.

Call us today if you’re looking for a tick control solution for your property.