Chronic illness often goes beyond physical symptoms leading to a decline in mental health, and increased feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Conditions like Lyme disease, thyroid disorders, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome can have a dramatic and long-lasting impact. One of the most common and detrimental effects of chronic illnesses such as these is a sense of alienation and loneliness. These feelings can contribute to a significant decline in mental health, encourage psychological dysfunction, and exacerbate existing conditions. To combat the psychological effects of chronic illness, it is essential that patients be aware of the threat, recognize the importance of community, and get appropriate support.
The Alienating Effects of Chronic Disease
Abandonment is a common sensation for those living with chronic illness. Many patients find that friends and family who have made vows to stick around through thick and thin tend to fade away when issues of chronic illness arise. Such situations can leave patients feeling betrayed, judged, and alone. Unfortunately, these stress-inducing sensations contribute further to the decline of psychological and physical wellness.
Sadly, psychological stress due to lack of support is an oft overlooked component of chronic illness. Studies show that chronically ill patients need more emotional support than any other category including physical, intellectual, financial, spiritual, or practical. Without adequate emotional and social support, patients run the risk of experiencing a notable decline in mental wellness that can trigger significant emotional distress, mood disorders, and even increase the severity of physical symptoms. Fortunately, awareness of this issue may be increasing as more reports are finding that social support is one of the most important elements of chronic illness recovery and management.
The Hardships of Seeking Help
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated six in ten adults in the United States suffer from one or more chronic diseases. Despite the prevalence of chronic illness, many have difficulty finding the support they need. One of the possible issues barring patients from acquiring emotional support is the social stigma surrounding chronic disease.
Illness secrecy and reluctance to pursue support is quite common among the chronically ill. This may be due in part to a perceived expectation that others will view them as weak, sick, or lesser. Experts also posit that patients may be reluctant to seek care for fear of being hurt by insensitive comments, losing their friends by asking too much, or earning a reputation as helpless or a complainer. These social and psychological factors can significantly inhibit an individual’s ability to get care.
Regardless of the cause, it is clear that the chronically ill have difficulty getting the support they need. One study, composed of 1,400 patients with chronic illness, found that 40 percent of participants experienced a strain on their relationships when they requested assistance or social support. Furthermore, simply the thought of needing emotional, physical, or practical support was a source of stress for the participants.
An increase in the severity or frequency of symptoms may also discourage patients from requesting help and dissuade others from providing it. The aforementioned study also showed that 77 percent of the same group reported symptom flareups or a worsening of their condition to have a negative impact on their relationships and ability to acquire support.
Even though getting the support needed can be challenging it is essential that chronically ill patients have a healthy support network.
The Importance of Quality Support
Without access to an effective support system, the likelihood of defeating a chronic condition is pitifully low. Finding and engaging with a compassionate, caring, and kind community or individual can dramatically improve outlook and physiological wellness. Studies have shown that establishing and sustaining a healthy connection with others can restore a desire for life, alleviate stress, provide motivation, and notably improve mental health. Truly there are few things as valuable as an effective support network when it comes to managing chronic illness.
Doing What Works Best for You
One of the best ways of getting the support you need to manage chronic illness is by joining an online community or local support group. Each have unique qualities that may make one more suitable than another for a patient’s specific situation. Both provide outlets for expression, learning, and most importantly emotional and social care. However, regardless of the format, be it virtual or in person, an effective support system should provide the following elements:
- A safe space to share about oneself without judgment
- Supportive emotional and social engagement
- Information regarding specific condition/s, treatments, etc.
Online communities not only provide information on chronic illness but contain emotional and social value. There are numerous online support groups and communities that range from general dialogues on chronic illness to discourse about specific conditions. Many online communities also facilitate interaction with others who may share your condition and can offer insight and emotional support. Furthermore, sites such as these may provide information on resources unique to your area and facilitate connection with others in the region who share your experiences.
Check out our list of recommended apps to help you manage your chronic illness and mental health while building an online community.
Support groups for virtually any chronic illness can be found throughout the country. Being involved in an in-person community provides certain benefits that online groups cannot. Physical interaction, visual engagement, and nonverbal communication can express a level of care and support that is simply not present in online discussions. Traditional support groups promote group bonding through the sharing of individual experiences, struggles, and treatments. Actively participating in these types of groups shows patients they are not alone and is perhaps the best method of dissuading the alienating effects of chronic illness.
Holtorf Medical Group now offers in-person support groups in our Los Angeles location. Click here to learn more about our psychotherapy services and how you can join the support group.
Finding Success Through Support
Patients looking to join a support group must take the leap of letting down their guard. Sharing individual experiences, being honest with yourself and others, and having a willingness to discuss difficult topics are all important pieces of effective support. Those who are able to engage fully with their community are far more likely to succeed in managing their condition. Continue your path to wellness by finding and engaging with a group or community that appreciates your condition and provides all the support you need.
1. National Institute of Mental Health. “Chronic Illness & Mental Health.” https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml
2. Web MD. “Dealing With Chronic Illnesses and Depression.” https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/chronic-illnesses-depression#1
3. Martha McLaughlin. “How Does Chronic Illness Affect Mental Health?” The Oaks Treatment Center. 4. The Parkinson Alliance. “Survey Examined Social Support in Parkinson’s Disease from the Patient’s Perspective.” PR Newswire.