It was a vicious cycle that didn't seem to end. Former taxi driver Mr W was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) but he was not convinced. "It had to be cancer," he thought each time his bowel habits changed.
Mr W asked for test after test; the results always came back normal. It drove him to frustration. And when he felt vexed, his IBS symptoms worsened.
When Dr Chee met the taxi driver for the first time, he noticed quickly that he was an extremely anxious person. "I tried to make him see the link between his anxiety and bowel symptoms," he says.
With some effort, Mr W's distress went away. After trying relaxation exercises taught by Dr Chee and anxiety medication, he reported that his IBS symptoms became much more manageable. He realised that it was anxiety that was contributing to the physical pain he experienced.
The Mind-Body Link
Mental health is more deeply connected to physical health than most people think. For example, illnesses like stroke or hypothyroidism can cause depression. Amputees may also go through a period of grief as they lose "a part of themselves" and come to terms with their new body, explains Dr Chee.
On the other hand, someone who is depressed may feel less motivated to take his medication or attend rehabilitation sessions. This will worsen pre-existing conditions like diabetes or hypertension.
Numbers show that about 15 per cent of adults with diabetes suffer from depression. This is three times higher than the prevalence of depression in the general adult population. The problem is worsened when patients are also plagued by financial or social problems.
Healthcare professionals have long realised that the mind and body cannot be treated as separate entities. A patient needs to be assessed as a whole – physically, emotionally, mentally – to ensure a complete and speedy recovery.
This is why the team of psychiatrists at Mind & Body Integration Clinic at SKH Medical Centre works hand in hand with colleagues in other departments, including occupational therapists, psychologists and medical social workers to manage complicated cases towards a more positive outcome.
The clinic is also located within the same Centre as geriatric medicine, endocrinology and surgical departments, which makes it convenient for patients to hop over for a consultation. "The close proximity also makes it less daunting for patients who are fearful of seeing a psychiatrist," says Dr Chee.
What Happens in the Clinic for Mind-Body Care
Consultations at the Mind & Body Integration Clinic help patients to attain a more positive mindset so that they can better cope with their treatments, recovery and adaptation to a different lifestyle. "We don't ask patients to lie down on a couch and start talking about their relationship with their mother," says Dr Chee.
Rather, the conversation focuses on the current issue. Patients will be asked about their medical symptoms and how their daily life is affected. Supplementary information about family, education and profession will also help the doctor know the patient as a whole.
If necessary, the psychiatrist may order investigations like blood tests or brain scans and prescribe medication. Sometimes, patients may need to see a psychologist for further therapy or be referred to a social worker for financial help.
"When patients are able to open themselves up for holistic mind-body medical care, they will find that their recovery will be that much smoother," says Dr Chee.
When to Seek Help
Mind & Body Integration Clinic services are available to anyone in the community that could benefit from a consultation at the clinic. If you notice your family member seems to be displaying anxiety or sadness in addition to symptoms (such as pain or discomfort) of the existing medical condition, it could mean that they may need more help. If they are not sleeping or eating well as before and losing a lot of weight, this could be a sign of depression.
"A consultation at the Mind & Body Integration Clinic could help with alleviating such symptoms," says Dr Chee.
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