Can Mental Illness Mask Other Conditions?

April 12, 2021 Nicola Spendlove

I have been down a serious Google rabbit hole this past week on the subject of mental illness masking other conditions. The reason for this is personal -- my brother is currently undergoing diagnostic testing for autism. The more I think about this, the more it makes sense that mental illness could inhibit timely diagnosis of other issues.

Mental Illness Can Mask Other Conditions Due to Similar Symptoms

It remains to be seen whether my brother will or won't receive an autism diagnosis as an adult; but honestly, it would make a lot of sense if he is autistic (note -- I am using "identity-first" language here as opposed to "person-first" in line with the wishes of many autistic advocates I am familiar with, but I'm always open to learning, so please feel free to pull me up on my language as you see fit).

My brother has always had hyper-fixations and largely hides away from social interaction. These traits have been explained by experts as being part of his mental illness, but they're also common experiences of many autistic folks. I can see how many symptoms of mental illness overlap with other conditions, and therefore another relevant and helpful diagnosis could be missed.

Perceived Lack of Credibility

I know from speaking to people who live with chronic mental illness that many medical professionals call their credibility into question. I can only imagine the intense frustration of this -- and indeed, the dangerous game of legitimate symptoms being dismissed as psychosomatic.

In this scenario, it's not so much a case of mental illness masking another condition -- it's more the social stigma of mental illness stealing the voice of a person talking about their health concerns. Honestly, this frightens me. How many people with mental illness might be discouraged from going to their doctor with legitimate symptoms if they don't feel they'll be listened to? The potential implications of this are huge.

I Want to Learn

I understand that I write this from a place of privilege that might have many people with mental illness who have experienced this for years rolling their eyes. All I can say is that I'm determined to learn more about the lived experiences of people with mental illness and access to general medical care, and it's up to me to learn and listen. 

I've been reading a lot of blog posts on the subject (there are great ones on this very site, in fact). If you would like to share your own story or some guidance on how I can be a better ally on this issue, I would be honored if you left a comment.

See Also:

APA Reference
Spendlove, N. (2021, April 12). Can Mental Illness Mask Other Conditions?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Nicola Spendlove

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