5 Things You Need to Know About Living With Chronic Disease

Chronic, ongoing illness affects around 133 million Americans, according to a National Health Council analysis, which amounts to over 40% of the total population and about half of all adults. Chronic illness has widespread effects, both in a broader economic sense as well as on a personal level; caring for chronically ill patients accounts for around 75% of all health care costs, and chronic disease can have negative mental health impacts on individuals affected. This is often induced by the stress and feelings of frustration and helplessness that comes with a diagnosis. Despite the large number of those affected by chronic disease, there are still misperceptions that persist. Here are 5 things you need to know about living with a chronic disease.

  1. It May Apply to More Diseases Than You Think

    Chronic disease is a broad term that applies to many different illnesses and conditions, some of which you may not have realized apply. Physical illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, and heart disease, along with mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, and dementia, all fall under the chronic disease categorization according to MedicinePlus, a government resource for public health information.

  2. It Can Have Effects That Fall Outside of the Disease Itself

    As the Cleveland Clinic notes, many of the effects from developing a chronic illness fall outside of the disease itself. Depression and anxiety may themselves be chronic illnesses, but they can also be caused by another chronic disease. For example, it is not uncommon for individuals with chronic disease to become socially withdrawn and feel an increase in stress; a decline in social interaction combined with increased stress can result in an increase in anxious and/or depressed feelings. While this is not abnormal, it is a cause for concern: if you have noticed you or a loved one withdrawing from previously normal social engagements, reach out to a doctor before symptoms worsen.

  3. Chronic Disease Can Cause Financial Stress

    Physical limitations brought on by chronic disease can make working the way you did before the symptoms appeared very difficult; this can sometimes make getting to work and achieving your usual tasks harder than it used to be, which can lead to financial stress. If you or a loved one is having difficulty at work due to chronic illness, it’s important to know your rights under the American With Disabilities Act (ADA) and act accordingly. These resources exist for a reason!

  4. Social Support Networks are Important

    A 2017 research study conducted by Parkinson Alliance indicates that feelings of loneliness, guilt and anger are not uncommon for those with a chronic illness; sometimes those with the illness feel as though they are a burden to their loved ones and are uncertain how to express those feelings. While a chronic illness can lead to tension within personal relationships, if your loved one is suffering from a chronic illness it is important that you make it clear to them that they are not a burden, and that you are there for them if they need help, even if it is just a listening ear and a companion in a trying time. Emotional support can be just as important as proper medical care, especially when those feelings of guilt, loneliness, and anger becomes consistent, pervasive, and/or intrusive.

Help Is Available

As we mentioned earlier, finding support within your friend and family groups is an extremely important part of healthily handling a chronic disease. It’s equally important to know that help- and information- is available. Finding your own personal therapeutic activities is important, whether it’s taking a walk, listening to music, or watching a favorite movie or tv show. Professional help is also available, in the form of support groups, one-on-one counseling or group, family, and couples counseling.

Psychology today has an extensive database that allows you to search for chronic illness support groups near you that can be found here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/groups/chronic-illness

For those who are caregivers for a loved one, the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) also has an excellent database called “Caregiver Connect”,  which provides helpful resources, educational material, and access to a network of fellow caregivers. Caregiver Connect can be accessed at this URL: https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-connect

If you or a loved one are suffering from emotional or physical distress as a result of chronic disease, it’s important that you contact a doctor as soon as possible, so that they can consult with you on the best course of action to take. We can’t stress this enough: chronic disease is a serious condition, and seeking out the proper help and resources is a vital component to combatting potentially debilitating effects.