Hypochondria is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses known to physicians and psychologists today. It is troubling to note how common the disease is and yet it is difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat effectively. However, a better understanding of the symptoms and nature of hypochondria is leading to a more informed public and further research into treatment methods for the millions who suffer from an intensely common disease.
Throughout history, hypochondria has been associated with melancholia. In the second century A.D., Galen of Pergamon was the first to link hypochondria with actual physical ailments and depression. Patients were seen as having anxiety that caused stomach problems and an intensive need to ruminate over their illness. Over time, this diagnosis had not changed much until the time of Robert Burton and his infamous book “The Anatomy of Melancholy” in 1621 in which he described “hypochondriacal melancholy. Burton was the first physician to give relief and hope to sufferers of hypochondria through his sound advice and genuine concern for those who claimed affliction.
During the 17th century and 18th Centuries, the disease became in vogue among the upper and middle class. The Renaissance helped encourage the image of the sickly artist who was a bit bizarre and eccentric with claims of illness and mental torment. However, this image quickly faded when in the 19th Century, hypochondria was classified a mental illness. The population has always had a problem with the stigma of mental illness and thus hypochondria fell out of vogue and out of the discussion of medial maladies until the time of Sigmund Freud. Freud’s conclusion of the disorder was that since the symptoms were not treatable by a physician and psychoanalysis did not prove any hidden past explanations of the disorder, it was of little interest to doctors of the body or mind. Thus hypochondria has remained on the backburner of diseases of the mind that are little understood in the medical and private sector.