“Decreasing stigma improves treatment and accurate diagnosis of diseases that are often misdiagnosed as mental illness.”

Growing up I had multiple family members with rare diseases. My grandmother died from heart failure in her fifties after her heart attacks were misdiagnosed as anxiety. I was diagnosed with dysautonomia in middle school but my mom, who had the same symptoms, was still told she was just a hypochondriac. Last spring, she was hospitalized due to what we thought was a stroke but ended up being hemiplegic migraine. I came across a journal article about pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma when I was reading about hemiplegic migraine. I’d personally been dismissed for years because my condition had similarities to anxiety (sympathetic nervous system activation.) I wondered if this was the same for pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma patients, and if so, what could be done about it.

One of the most satisfying parts of my project was talking with people who didn’t understand why this mattered but were curious to learn. To answer, I gave two examples: George Floyd (paraganglioma) and Dwight Eisenhower (pheochromocytoma). Over fifty years passed between their deaths and both of them were not diagnosed until autopsy. Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas don’t discriminate. We can make changes, both among the general public and healthcare providers, to improve treatment of psychiatric disorders and rare diseases (especially pheo/para) simultaneously. I specifically suggested for medical doctors to be required to have in person training in a psychiatric ward because personal experience decreases stigma. Decreasing stigma improves treatment and accurate diagnosis of diseases that are often misdiagnosed as mental illness.

I just graduated from Apple Valley High School in Apple Valley, MN. I am attending St. Olaf College in Northfield this Fall, and I plan to pursue a double major in Psychology and Biology w/ a concentration in Neuroscience. My long-term plan is to become a physician scientist and conduct medical research in the realm of genetic and/or neurological rare diseases