Asking for help with an invisible disability


Can we ever imagine living with an invisible disability and how painful it is at every moment? An invisible disability or silent illness, as it is often known, may be defined as a mental, neurological and physical condition by the Invisible Disabilities Association, which cannot be seen externally although it continually hinders or challenges the functioning, movements, and activities of the individual.

It is not just one or two people suffering from invisible disabilities; the World Health Organisation (WHO) has already stated that more than 1 billion individuals have disabilities in one form or another, cumulatively accounting for a whopping 15% of the total global population! And for affected individuals, it is doubly hard to ask for help, since they do not have visible issues that people can swiftly understand and identify with.

What are some invisible disorders?

While the list of invisible disabilities only keeps growing longer by the day, here are some of them that you should note:

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
  • Chronic fatigue.
  • Migraine.
  • Asthma.
  • Diabetes.
  • Cancer.
  • Allergies.
  • Arthritis.
  • Depression.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Celiac/Irritable Bowel Syndrome/Colitis.
  • Lupus.
  • Heart Ailments.
  • Lyme Disease.
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome.
  • Multiple Sclerosis.

Why is asking for help not an easy task

Living with an invisible disability is especially hard, since one may be in excruciating pain or discomfort throughout each day and night, without showing visible signs of the same. Only a few recurring symptoms like fatigue, pain, weakness, or dizziness may be observed. In such cases, other people usually take a dim view of these ailments and may not always be as understanding or empathetic. Nothing could be truer than a study conducted by the National Pain Foundation (NPF) in 1999 which clearly stated that lack of validation was the biggest hurdle faced by these people with invisible disabilities.

Out of frustration and anger at others’ lack of empathy and also a sense of guilt/embarrassment/exhaustion, they find it impossible to seek help, even when it is at hand.

A few things that we should remember

  • A person looking fit and fine may not always be healthy inside.
  • Not every invisible disability comes from stress or psychological issues.
  • Seeking relief for excruciating pain or continual discomfort through medicine is perfectly natural.
  • These people should not be wrongly perceived by the healthcare system as those who only seek out medicines without any real causes.

How we can support such individuals

  • Since they cannot always bring themselves to ask for help, we can try offering assistance silently or disability services without making a big deal about it.
  • Talking to these individuals about their struggles is always a good idea. With more understanding comes respect and empathy for their situations.
  • Accept that they cannot get better overnight and it is not all in your hands. All they require is affection and love.
  • Give these people the space and flexibility they desire at times. Many such illnesses end up isolating people socially.

References for WHO definition and research studies-

How to Support Those with Invisible Illnesses