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February 7, 2005
Is Lovesickness a Psychiatric Disorder?
The Independent reports today on the growing belief that lovesickness should be categorized as a psychiatric illness:
"Falling in love used to be fun. Now doctors are warning that the throes of passion should be seen as a potentially fatal medical disorder. Psychologists say that "lovesickness" is a genuine disease that needs more awareness and diagnosis....Symptoms can include mania, such as an elevated mood and inflated self-esteem, or depression, revealing itself as tearfulness and insomnia...Aspects of obsessive compulsive disorder can also be found in those experiencing lovesickness, such as preoccupation and obsessively checking for text messages and e-mails...Professor Alex Gardner, a clinical psychologist in Glasgow and a member of the British Psychological Society, said doctors needed to be more aware of lovesickness as a possible diagnosis in their patients. "People can die from a broken heart," he said. "Lovesickness is probably extremely common."
While I have no doubt that lovesickness is common, I am increasingly concerned about the continuing trend of defining mental health problems with terms that do not correlate to the underlying neurobiology of the illness. Broad, top down descriptions of psychiatric conditions like this that are defined primarily via evaluation of externally observed symptoms confuse rather that improve accurate diagnosis and treatment.
I would like to see a neuroimaging study performed on a wide selection of those suffering from lovesickness to see if there is a common neurobiological explanation for this illness. My bet is that there would be little correlation among participants as the definition is too all encompassing.
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