Invisible Illness

Invisible Illness

There are many aspects that change a person when a chronic illness is involved. From a biological standpoint, his or her health is in question and affects daily abilities that most people take for granted. From a psychological view, the experience of a chronic illness necessitates adaptations in multiple life domains such as aspirations and lifestyle. This creates challenges to a person’s psyche. Lastly, from a social interpretation, there is a need to look at support relationships, culture and environment. People vary in terms of their personal capabilities and internal resources, such as tolerance, functional capacity, ability to cope, and social supports. Thus, the complexities of a young adult with a chronic illness must be explored through multiple dimensions.



When faced with a chronic illness it can negatively impact one sense of independence and self-control. Young adults are typically at a time of high activity, productivity and growth. From the ages of 18 to 30, people tend to launch their careers, get married, and begin families of their own. The presence of a chronic condition can complicate these processes and the conception and completion of goals and dreams. At a time when a young adult’s energy is generally directed towards accomplishing these types of things, the individual with a chronic illness may need to utilize most inner resources to cope with the condition.

In society it is not common to hear the words “young adult” and “chronic illness” used in the same sentence. It has been found however, that there are a lot more young adults that suffer from chronic illnesses than expected, myself being one of them. My interest in this topic is one of curiosity for myself and those suffering, as well as, hopes for society who is largely unaware of this growing population. As a prior medical doctor-in-training and current therapist, I have seen first hand the impact that a chronic illness can have on one’s life. I also know that I am one of many.



A chronic illness affects all aspects of an individual’s life and so the personal meaning of the illness to each individual is crucial. The degree of the illness and how it alters ones’ lifestyle, may relate more to the person’s perceptions and beliefs about the disease than to the disease itself. Therefore, the disability may depend not only on the kind of condition and its severity, but also on the implications it holds for the person.

Having a strong sense of identity can protect someone and allow one to feel accepted in the face of the chronic illness stigma. This identity belief system refers to a person’s perspective, which includes one’s perceptions, mental attitudes beliefs, and interpretations of experiences. Cognitive belief patterns help individuals with chronic illnesses achieve identity acceptance and protection in the face of stigmatizing conditions.

Some illnesses create more of a problem than others, but overall there is self-consciousness associated and chronic health problems tend to be stigmatized by society. This leads to many young adults wanting to hide and retreat from society isolating him or herself.

Coping with a diagnosis ‘well’ involves implementing coping strategies that involve assessing what we think about the event and then considering what we do about it. How young adults and their family and friends appraise the illness will influence his or her ability to cope with the situation. Chronic illness has a substantial impact on emotional life, lifestyle, education, self-esteem and social relationships as well as physical well being. The illness can result in isolation from peer groups, in addition to hindering the development and maintenance of relationships and with potential increasing dependence. Young adults with chronic illness that report a lower quality of life compared to healthy peers and high levels of depression and anxiety in comparison to healthy people are more likely to be developmentally different than healthy adults. Research has indicated however, that this can change based on establishing healthy coping strategies and outlook on the future. Talking about the illness including fears and emotional responses can help the young adult deal with the diagnosis and potentially move forward in life.

When young adults start to build a new world that incorporates the illness, they make physical and emotional adaptations and constantly revise their assumptions of the world. The longer the time after diagnosis the better the adjustment to ‘normal’ life; however, most never fully accept the diagnosis. Although they adjust to the management of the chronic illness, there are still times of grief for years post-diagnosis.

Invisible Illness Therapists

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