The French Illness – Obsession in Focus

The French Illness – Obsession in Focus

An old neurotic classification, ‘hysteria’, may get come back into vogue as the the increasing rift in the mind-body connection endorsed by our biomechanical orientation toward health continues. The first paragraph of this article sums this up; that the ‘mind’ is far, far more than our limited conception of it as sort of brain by-product.

One of the interesting features of modern healthcare is, that in spite of all our professionals, medicines and technology, we are the ‘worried well’. If it is not money – or the lack of it – that keeps us awake at night, then it is probably health concerns. The current medical model does not allay these fears, mainly because it has a very limited view of the mind and until we see it from a more integrated and holistic perspective, we are likely to remain as neurotic about health as this rather amusing, yet somewhat tragic article portrays.


Source: The Times


The main bulk of the iceberg here is the psyche, extending far beyond our limited view of the mind as some of add-on to the physical brain. He is a thoroughly modern Frenchman who refuses to kiss women for fear of catching an illness, panics at the slightest sneeze and douses himself in antibacterial handwash when he goes out.

The neurotic Romain Faubert is the main character in Supercondriaque, a film that has sparked a nationwide debate on what one newspaper called the disease of the century in France: hypochondria.

Commentators say the condition is responsible for health expenditure that fuels high taxes, budget deficits and low growth. The French consume 40 per cent more pills than most of their European neighbours and spend 35.5 billion pounds ($55bn) on medicines, compared with 18 billion pounds in Italy, and only 12 billion pounds in Britain.

Supercondriaque has been panned by critics but is set to become a box-office hit after being seen by more people on the day of its release than any film in France for two years – 360,299, in all.

One reason is the popularity of its star, Dany Boon, whose character, Faubert, highlights a striking social trend. Faubert lives alone and has only one friend: his GP. When he tries to seduce a woman, he entices her into the shower to make sure she is microbe-free.

Medics say he is typical of the sort of patient they encounter with increasing frequency. “They are always complaining about something,” said Sauveur Boukris, a lecturer at the Medical Faculty at Diderot University. “We reassure them with blood tests and scans, but nothing works. They continue to have multiple tests.”

A survey coinciding with the release of Supercondriaque showed 13 per cent of French people were hypochondriacs – convincing themselves they were ill, in the absence of any symptoms.

The condition is not new, and was the theme of The Imaginary Invalid, the 17th-century work by Moliere. But specialists say it has been exacerbated by a healthcare system that sets few limits on the consultations or medicines available to patients.