A chronic illness is basically any disease that has a long term effect on the body. Some chronic illnesses, or the tendency to contract them are hereditary, and some are environmental. Some are born with a chronic disease and others fall ill later in life with a long term illness.
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness does not necessarily mean you will be forever trapped with the disease. Some chronic illnesses can eventually be cured. In some cases the symptoms fade over time, in others they abruptly cease. There is no tried and true method of calculating if and when you will overcome a chronic illness. The prognosis can be unpredictable.
The best method of dealing with such a disease is to effectively alleviate the symptoms while attempting to avoid the situations that created the problem in the first place. Chronic conditions range from relatively mild ones such as partial hearing losses, to severe and life threatening disorders, such as cancer, coronary artery disease, diabetes, etc. Mild chronic illness can be managed but when life threatening disorders are in advance stage they can cause terminal illness or death.
Psychological responses to chronic illness:
Denial is a strategy used by patient to avoid the consequences of the illness.
Denial may be useful in helping patients control their emotional reactions to illness, but it may interfere with their ability to manage their conditions, to take initiative in seeking treatment.
Anxiety is common after the diagnosis of chronic illness. E.g. A person with cancer will worry about minor aches or pain in the body. They may have fear that their condition is getting severe. Anxiety is high when people are waiting for test results, receiving diagnoses and experiencing side effects of treatment.
Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. It is estimated that up to one-third of individuals with a serious medical condition experience symptoms of depression. Depression can increase the risk and course of the chronic illness. When depression is present, it is extremely important to treat both the depression and the chronic medical illness at the same time.
4.Effect on individual:
Chronic illness can produce drastic changes in self-concept, which includes body image, social functioning and the private self.
People with chronic illness negatively evaluate themselves.
Feelings of being neglected by social groups.
Becoming dependent on others can threaten their independent identity.
Coping strategies for chronic illness:
- Accept your illness. Work with it rather than resisting and denying the situation
- Keep positive focus. Watch your thinking
- Accept the help of a support group
- Get involved in a healthy life style – eating healthy food, engage in exercise, get enough sleep
- Go for regular medical check-ups and keep taking medication consistently
- See a counsellor for psychological and emotional distress
- Share your emotions – talk about what you are going through
- Handle your anger and irritability by distracting yourself – watch movies, listen to music, go for a walk if you are able to
- Keep realistic expectations
What can relatives of a chronically ill patient do?
Be honest about the illness. Hiding a person’s serious illness from the rest of the family can backfire. Communicate directly and be open with family members. Support the person who is suffering from chronic illness by listening and being there for support. Sometimes we all need a shoulder to cry on. Learn about the disease, help out with daily chores, and give emotional support.
Care takers should understand that after hearing the news of illness patient may develop psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression, irritability, denial
Chronic illness needs major psychological adjustments from the person affected as well as those around them in order to cope well with the diagnosis. Coming to terms with the fact that our body is failing in some way is especially frightening and can make a person feel alone and scared.
Encourage hope and faith by focusing on the small things in life that bring happiness. Worrying about the future will increase anxiety. Staying in the moment as much as possible and enjoying every moment of life is vital. Listen and allow the person to talk about how they are feeling.
Before my mother died from cystic fibrosis in 2000, we didn’t talk much about how she was feeling. I avoided the subject as I felt it may increase her anxiety and so I deftly avoided the subject. I question this approach now as I am sure that she thought about the inevitable constantly and she probably would have liked to express herself.
Chronic illness does not always mean the results will be negative. Stay hopeful, connect with friends and family and keep psychologically strong. The mind is very powerful – think positively as much as possible and find pleasure in the simple things.