Last week I posted my first ever speech. I debated whether or not to post it. It seemed a little narcissistic, but there’s something in the spoken word that is sometimes lost in the written word, and vice versa (for instance, I had no idea I gestured that much. I’d like to blame it on nerves, but it turns out I do that all the time. Same with the funny faces. Thank God I didn’t suddenly start speaking in a cheesy German accent like I’m prone to do at home). I’d like to do it again. Maybe I’ll be more organized next time (and in better control of my limbs).
Anyway, there was a term I used in my speech that I decided would make a great Word Wednesday- Invisible Illness. Here’s what I found.
An incomplete list of invisible illnesses from Pliable in His Hands:
Allergies and Food In-tolerances, Arthritis, Asthma, Cancer, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain, Depression /Mental Illness, Diabetes and Blood Sugar, Digestive Disorders; Example IBS, colitis, Celiac etc., Eating Disorders, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome EDS & HyperMobility Syndrome GHS, Headaches, Migraines, etc., Heart Conditions inc Dysautonomia, Infertility, Lupus, Lyme Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Neurological Diseases, Pain Management, Rare and Orphan Illnesses, Secondary Medical Issues, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Thyroid Disorders.
Statistics from Invisible Illness Week:
WHAT ABOUT INVISIBLE ILLNESS?
Approximately 96% of people who live with an illness have an illness that is invisible. These people do no use a cane or any assistive device and may look perfectly healthy. (2002 US Census Bureau)
WHAT OTHER CONDITIONS MAY BE DESCRIBED AS BEING AN INVISIBLE ILLNESS OR DISABILITY?
Though statistics do not include many categories of illness, mental illness, or conditions, we welcome anyone who may benefit from encouragement from others who have illnesses.
- For example, 9 million people are cancer survivors with various side effects from treatment who may feel as though they have a chronic condition. (American Cancer Society)
- Current statistics on autism indicate that more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than cancer, diabetes, Downs Syndrome and AIDS combined, approximately 1 in 150 children (http://www.generationrescue.org)\
WHAT ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS? DOES IT COUNT?
- Yes! About one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27. and more than 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental disorder
Conwell Y, Brent D. Suicide and aging I: patterns of psychiatric diagnosis. International Psychogeriatrics, 1995; 7(2): 149-64.
- Two million Americans live with schizophrenia—twice the number of those with HIV/AIDS. Almost 50% believe that doctors take their medical problems less seriously than those of people with other illnesses. (National Alliance on Mental Health)
- Meanwhile, the death rate from causes such as heart disease and diabetes is two to three times greater for people living with serious mental illnesses than that of the general population. (National Alliance on Mental Health)
- Unfortunately, two-thirds of people living with serious mental illnesses do not receive treatment. (National Alliance on Mental Health)
BUT IS HAVING AN ILLNESS REALLY THAT BIG OF DEAL?
- The divorce rate among the chronically ill is over 75 percent. National Health Interview Survey
- Depression is 15-20% higher for the chronically ill than for the average person – Rifkin, A. “Depression in Physically Ill Patients,” Postgraduate Medicine (9-92) 147-154.
- Various studies have reported that physical illness or uncontrollable physical pain are major factors in up to 70% of suicides; Mackenzie TB, Popkin MK: “Suicide in the medical patient.”. Intl J Psych in Med 17:3-22, 1987
- and more than 50% of these suicidal patients were under 35 years of age. Michalon M: La psychiatrie de consultation-liaison: une etude prospective en milieu hospitalier general. Can J Psychiatry (In French) 38:168-174,1993
One of the most common phrases people with Invisible Illnesses hear is “But you don’t look sick.” (Sounds an awful lot like “You present so well” doesn’t it?) That’s not to say that people with Invisible Illnesses can’t do or accomplish any of the same things as healthy people but it does mean that accommodations need to be made for them. Just like someone who uses a wheelchair requires accommodations be made to the physical space, people with invisible illnesses often require accommodations to the environment, work load etc. For instance someone with chemical sensitivities would require a scent-free environment.
The unfortunate truth is most people, even sometimes our closest friends and family members, cannot or refuse to accept the realities of Invisible Illness. These illnesses can be very debilitating even though the one who is suffering appears to be healthy (I often say “If it weren’t for my head I’m healthy as a horse”). Next time you run into someone who has said they aren’t feeling well, but they look fine, take a few minutes before you judge their health based on appearances. They may be suffering more than you can imagine.
A video from Invisible Illness Week. I think I’ve had this exact conversation with people about my health and the kids’ health. Only I have more hair and would make funnier faces.