Tammy is terrified of heights. While walking up or downstairs, taking an escalator or walking along a catwalk, she feels vertigo, loss of balance and terror. She has been diagnosed as phobic and has been put on Paxil to control her panic. The medication has helped reduce her symptoms but she still becomes unstable when facing heights. This is because the true cause of her fear is not a learned phobia but faulty vestibular processing. The phobia happened as a result of this dysfunction.
Nadia has panic attacks when in a crowd. Suddenly, a wave of panic overcomes her – her heart races, her pulse throbs, the world spins, and she can hardly catch her breath. She feels as if she’s dying and losing her mind. She has been diagnosed with panic disorder and put on Zoloft. This has helped reduce the intensity of the attacks but they still happen. This is because her panic attack is not based in her head but in her body. Darlene is severely sensory defensive and panics in sensory overloaded environments like crowds.
Jackson finds it hard to talk to people. Often, he can’t follow what they are saying and will awkwardly say the wrong thing. This makes him so anxious he avoids socializing and has been diagnosed with social phobia. He is in cognitive behavioral therapy to help him overcome his fears and he tries to think positively. CBT helps to boost his confidence but he still he finds it hard to focus on what the other is saying. This is because social phobia is not the cause of his shyness. Jackson has auditory discrimination problems that create a disconnect between what people are saying and what his brain processes.
As is clear from the above examples, and there are many more, sensory processing disorder (SPD) and psychiatric illness go hand in hand: almost all who have sensory processing issues report psychiatric symptoms that range from anxiety to bipolar disorder to substance abuse to depersonalization. Could your mental health issues be a result of sensory issues?