Somatic Symptom Disorder
A Nature vs. Nurture Debate
By Jennifer Nguyen
July 3, 2015
While many mental disorders are well-known and commonly referred to, such as bipolar disorder, depression, and anorexia, one mental disorder that has less limelight are somatoform disorders. WebMD defined somatoform disorders as “mental illnesses that cause bodily symptoms, including pain” where these symptoms cannot be “traced back to any physical cause” and they are “not the result of substance abuse of another mental illness” (WebMD).
The Criteria & Associated Behaviors
In DSM-IV, somatization disorder was the major somatoform disorder. There were many criteria for this ...view middle of the document...
Other behaviors that are associated with SSD include not just feeling the pain, but also excessively thinking, feeling, or behaving in ways that are caused by these somatic symptoms. For example, obsessively complaining about the symptoms would be a behavior of this disorder.
Although the exact etiology of somatoform disorder and, more particularly, somatic symptom disorder is unknown, research has shown evidence for both genetic and environmental factors. The nature versus nurture debate is extremely common in psychological studies. From dealing with just personalities to serious disorders, psychologists often consider whether certain traits and disorders are inherited or are taught. In DSM-IV, somatization disorders were said to have both nature, or biological, reasons and nurture, or environmental, reasons. With DSM-V’s new categorization of somatic symptom disorder, the criteria have somewhat changed, but the etiology remains the same.
Evidence for “Nature”
Firstly, there is an argument for somatic disorders to be biologically inherited because of the statistics of where somatic disorders are most prevalent. For example, it is found that the disorder is found to be significantly more common in Puerto Rico. Glorisa Canino and her colleagues from the University of Puerto Rico wrote about their findings regarding this disorder. They write, “There was a long-standing observation that Puerto Ricans reported higher levels of psychiatric symptoms than did other North Americans” (Canino, 2000). They go on to suggest evidence from environmental factors as well, however, positively noting that it is more than environmental factors that have led to the prevalence of this disorder.
Secondly, Theodore Stern also acknowledges in his book that in individuals with somatization disorder, about 10-20 percent of female relatives will also have the disorder. Male relatives, however, have “increased rates of alcoholism and sociopathy” (Stern, 2008). This shows that there is indeed a biological component to the disorder and that it is more prevalent among women than men. However, men also suffer from some other negative statistics as well such as more of an inclination to be addicted to substances. This suggestion from Stern is highly backed up by the statistical evidence of those prone to SSD. There has been evidence that somatoform disorders, specifically somatization disorder back when that was the term, is present in about 0.2% of males, but up to 2% in females (DeGruy, 1987).
Thirdly, research has also showed that somatic symptom disorder is also linked to other anxiety or mood disorders. Since this is the case, it is multi-faceted and the biological reasoning behind other disorders, specifically personality disorders, can then bring about the existence of SSD in those same individuals. It all comes back to the how our minds work in developing these disorders.
Lastly, there have been theories supporting the biological etiology of somatic disorders...