Society needs to make more of an effort when it comes to invisible illnesses

Aoife O'Brien

Some disabilities are more obvious than others. Some are evident immediately, such as when a person relies on a wheelchair or mobility scooter. Society generally accepts the need to accommodate these disabilities in everyday life. 

But some disabilities are not so obvious and when someone outwardly appears like any other healthy person there is an innate unwillingness to accept that they might be entitled to something that the rest of us are not. 

For many people living with a hidden illness, it can often feel like society wants them to become as invisible as their disability. But health, like beauty is more than skin deep and we need to stop discriminating against it just because we don’t always understand.

Invisible illnesses can come in many different forms including diabetes, autism, crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia.

People who live with them face particular challenges in the workplace and in their communities.

For a diabetic, their body is not able to regulate blood sugar on its own. This means that they must take insulin to stop their blood sugar getting too high and eat regularly to stop it from getting too low. 

However, in many workplaces regular breaks are not given despite legal requirements. 

In restaurants and cafes people often work for more than eight hours without a break. 

While all staff are of course entitled to their breaks, for a diabetic it is an absolute necessity. Not regulating blood sugar can lead to immediate problems such as fainting but also more serious long term problems including sight loss and amputation.

While obviously there are some benefits to an illness being invisible as it allows people to hide it in front of strangers or it may help in the initial stage of getting a job interview the symptoms of the illness cannot stay ignored forever.

For someone living with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes full body chronic pain and intense fatigue, it is often not the occasional hospital stays that are the hardest part of the illness but the everyday mundane activities.

Washing their hair or making dinner can exhaust the person quickly so being allocated a parking space close to their work or being able to use the disabled parking space is a necessity so that they are able to carry out their job without extra obstacles. 

Despite this they can often be subjected to dirty looks and abuse because the person does not use a wheelchair or appear outwardly disabled.

Access to free public transport and being allowed to skip long queues are often things that people with invisible illnesses are legally entitled to but a lack of awareness means that they are often forced to explain themselves and their illness leading to frustration, anger and upset.

These people are not lazy. They are not greedy or looking for a free ride in life.

They have serious and often debilitating conditions but they are trying to live their lives in as normal a way as possible and just need a little extra understanding and support to do so. 

We must work to increase awareness and understanding of invisible illnesses so that we can remove that barriers that the sufferers are currently facing.

Aoife O’Brien

Image: Piqsels