What is an Autoimmune Disease and How is It Related to My Mental Health?
A healthy immune system is a set of tools designed to fight off invading microorganisms, it is your bodies defense from illness. Sometimes the immune system malfunctions, and attacks the body, this is called autoimmunity. Some degree of autoimmunity is normal in all people, and is usually harmless. Autoimmune diseases occur when this harmless level of autoimmunity shifts and becomes serious. This progression is determined by several variables including genetic and environmental triggers (for example a traumatic experience can trigger genetic loading and induce onset of illness). Autoimmune diseases can strike anywhere in the body, the symptoms can vary, making diagnosis difficult.
How is it Treated?
Currently autoimmune diseases are treated by doctors who specialize in the area of the body being impacted. Someone with joint and muscle autoimmunity would see a rheumatologist, while someone with a thyroid gland focused autoimmunity would see an endocrinologist. The big push is towards a more collaborative approach to treating the whole problem as opposed to symptoms. In the last several years groups have popped up like the Autoimmune Disease Research Center at Johns Hopkins.
As with any major medical diagnoses, a diagnoses of an autoimmune disease should come with a recommendation for mental health service. Not because “it's all in your head”, but because disease management can be stressful, stress is one of the top causal factors in disease “flare ups”, and a mental health provider can help you learn to manage your overall stress load thus decreasing incidence rate of flare ups. Additionally, there is evidence that shows people suffering from all sorts of pain and discomfort with autoimmunity getting relief from EMDR Therapy.
As noted previously, autoimmunity is suspected to be traumagenic in nature. With recent research showing a vascular connection between the brain and the immune system( Scientific American, 7/21/2015), now more than ever this theory seems most accurate. This holds great hope for moving forward in managing symptoms and treatment of the root cause, and places even more value on the importance of qualified mental health services as part of the overall treatment plan.
What Do I Do Now?
If you are newly diagnosed or have been struggling for a while with an autoimmune disease and would like to learn more about how EMDR or group therapy might be able to help you live a healthier, happier, reduced flare up life, please feel free to give us a call. This article is the first in a series on autoimmune diseases, so check back for the next installment!
Reannon Kerwood, MA, LMFT
Coherence Associates, Inc.
760-942-8663 ext 3