Nearly a quarter of French men, (23 percent), under the age of 35 fear they are suffering from an illness, even though they have manifested no symptoms, according to a new study released this week.
The phenomenom seems to be encouraged, at least in part by the media and continuing discussions about serious illnesses.
But the study from France’s public opinion agency IFOP and press agency Capital Image didn’t point to any one single cause to explain the high levels of hypochondria, which is fundamentally a worry or anxiety about having a medical problem.
A renowned French psychiatry expert told The Local on Monday young men could be falling prey to hypochondria because stereotypical social roles prevent them from discussing their feelings.
“Men have trouble expressing their emotions or we could even say confessing their emotion, so maybe it's easier for a man to say ‘I have a physical problem,’ than to say ‘I am anxious,’” said Jean-Pierre Olié, a psychiatry professor at the University of Paris.
“Women are allowed to cry, they are allowed to show they are emotionally overwhelmed, they are allowed to be afraid in our cultural scheme.”
People living in greater Paris were also more likely, at 19 percent, to be excessively afraid of having a disease, even though no symptoms have manifested themselves.
Communication appears to be the primary trigger for France’s hypochondriacs. About 48 percent said they began to fear they were battling an illness, without symptoms, after seeing or hearing a report about it. Reading about a disease online prompted the same worries in 43 percent of hypochondriacs.
In order to calm their fears most French hypochondriacs also turn to online sources and attempt to educate themselves about the disease they fear they’ve contracted. However, 59 percent actually bring their fears to a doctor in order to have themselves examined.
Those who actually go to doctors pose the greatest physical risks to themselves, professor Olié told The Local. By presenting potentially false symptoms, which were drawn from internet research, patients can confuse doctors and provoke an incorrect treatment, Olié said.
However, it seems most of France’s hypochondriacs are, despite or perhaps due to their fears, unwilling to be tested for major diseases like cancer.
In fact 19 percent of hypochondriacs, versus 13 percent of French people in general, avoid cancer tests. Among women hypochondriacs the numbers are even higher, with 14 percent avoiding mammograms, while five percent of French women generally steer clear of those tests.
Olié said information about a disease and awarness of hypochondria are the best weapons against it. He noted that once people are aware that their anxiety or fears are the problem, not an unknown medical problem, they manage to handle the hypochondria on their own.
“The first thing is education, but right behind it is all that can help one deal with and prevent stress,” he said. “Whether it’s psychiatric techniques or simply meditation, those are the tools to fight hypochondria.”