‘Somatization’ may be an unfamiliar or complex sounding word, but, in fact, it describes a phenomenon that everyone experiences. Somatization is the physical (or body) expression of emotions and stress. Everyone somatizes; for example, feeling butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous.
Somatization is the result of the mind-body connection - the back and forth communication between our mind and our body. Somatization can happen all on its own, like a stomachache before an exam, or along with another medical condition, like migraines that get worse on a busy day. Health care professionals call this ‘an element of somatization’. For some children and youth, somatization can get in the way of their daily activities and interfere with their lives.
It is understandable that a parent may be confused when their child has a physical symptom but has not been diagnosed with a medical condition, or if the symptom is stronger and more prolonged than expected. It’s important to understand how emotions can cause or intensify powerful physical symptoms. Learning about somatization and the mind-body connection is the first step towards recovery.
Because somatization can be difficult to understand, a team of psychologists and psychiatrists and family partners at BC Children’s Hospital have developed new resources to help explain somatization to youth, and to help families understand diagnosis and treatment. The Mind-Body Connection at Wildwood High video and The Mind-Body Connection and Somatization: A Family Handbook are both available on the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre website at keltymentalhealth.ca/somatization.
If you are curious to learn more about somatization, these resources are an excellent place to start. If you have any questions about these resources, please email Shannon Vogels at Shannon.firstname.lastname@example.org.