More than a Germaphobe

Student struggles with mental illness during pandemic

Stephanie Kontopanos, Assistant Editor

The coronavirus outbreak has led people to be more concerned about their health, but there are those who feel more anxiety about COVID-19 than others.

Junior Avery Harris has severe hypochondria or hypochondriasis, a mental illness that causes anxiety of having a serious, undiagnosed illness.

Harris began to show symptoms when she was 4 years old, and in sixth grade she was finally diagnosed.

“It made me really relieved,” Harris said. “Before [I was diagnosed,] I thought all my symptoms were real. Knowing that it was just a mental disorder cleared up so much confusion.”

Hypochondriacs typically have varying symptoms and have anxiety over different diseases.

“My main triggers are heart attacks, strokes and vomiting,” Harris said. “I commonly feel shortness of breath, upset stomach and tension headaches, which spiral into panic attacks.”

Pullquote Photo

People think it’s as simple as thinking puking is gross when in reality it’s a whole other level.

— Avery Harris, 11

While Harris is staying home like many because of the pandemic, physical illness is not the only limitation keeping her inside.

“I refuse to go in public at all because I know that if I do, I’ll start feeling the symptoms and not know if it’s in my head or really happening,” Harris said.

Luckily, Harris has a strong support system to aid her.

“The only way I can cope is distractions such as friends, family and pets. My friends know not to bring up disease around me,” Harris said. “My really close friends will talk me down from panic attacks. Friends and family avoid me when they feel like vomiting so they won’t trigger me.”

While Harris does have a great support system, she feels that many people tend to undermine hypochondria.

“Hypochondria is usually just considered overreacting or being a germaphobe,” Harris said. “Many people think it’s as simple as thinking puking is gross, when in reality, it’s a whole other level.”

Harris said that people shouldn’t self diagnose themselves with hypochondria.

“If you feel like it affects your life, get a professional diagnosis,” she said.