Many people have hidden chronic illnesses, which can be extremely debilitating, but aren’t necessarily visually apparent to others. Living with these conditions can be particularly difficult because of the natural feelings of anxiety, insecurity, frustration and fear associated with being ill, combined with the added pressure of sensing that some people do not believe in the authenticity of the condition. (It is common for people to be more sympathetic about illnesses that manifest themselves more clearly, and some people with hidden chronic illnesses may appear deceivingly well to others.)
Examples of hidden illnesses include:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
- mental health issues such as anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression;
- LUPUS (an incurable immune system illness);
- fibromyalgia (musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder);
- multiple sclerosis (MS);
- ME, chronic fatigue syndrome, post-viral fatigue syndrome;
- heart disease;
Some of these illnesses are not yet well understood by the medical profession (in fact, it is common for doctors who qualified before 1990 not to have learned anything about fibromyalgia). They are historically very hard to diagnose and very hard to find treatment for. Because of this, they are sometimes labelled as psychosomatic complaints (i.e. psychiatric problems that are not really physical at all). This does a dis-service to those who have been diagnosed with these illnesses, many of whom are in severe, chronic pain.
On-going, persistent pain will clearly have an impact on the quality of a person’s life and can lead to other issues such as depression, relationship breakdown and difficulty continuing to work. In the majority of cases, people with chronic hidden conditions would benefit from carrying on with work, even if they are unable to perform their work role as before. For advice and information about the interplay between health conditions and work, take a look at the resources on the Fit for Work website, or call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235.