Chronic Illness and its Social and Emotional Effects

23 March, 2021
Chronic illness also has social and emotional effects. Discover them in this article!

When you face illness, your whole life completely changes. However, in current times, when life expectancy has risen so much, it’s quite common for people to live with a chronic illness. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (2016), life expectancy has increased by five years since 2000. This is largely due to advances in medicine and medical research.

In many instances, the treatments that exist are merely palliative. This means that they don’t completely cure the disease, but the patient manages to live with it. However, living with a chronic disease will have negative effects on their day-to-day life. Consequently, it can lead to a decrease in their quality of life.

Chronic illness

The World Health Organization defines chronic illness as a functional organic disorder that forces a change in a person’s lifestyle. Furthermore, the illness tends to persist throughout their life. It’s usually a condition that lasts longer than six months and progresses slowly. Here are some of the most common chronic illnesses (Vinaccia and Orozco, 2005):

A man testing his blood.

Many endogenous factors can influence the onset of these types of diseases, such as hormones. However, it’s important to remember that you can try and improve certain circumstances in order to stop them from happening in the first place. For example, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding stress, and making sure you’re living in a healthy environment. These are just some of the weapons you have at your disposal.

“The best of healers is good cheer.”

-Pindar-

Effects of chronic illness

Chronic or not, any disease has negative effects that impact your life. This article focuses on the most common.

Social effects

Castillo, Mañas, Moralejo, and Ahijado (2017) stated that a number of changes can occur when a patient develops a chronic illness:

  • Modification of the patient’s role. In many cases, patients suffer a loss of autonomy and independence. Therefore, they might need extensive care and attention.
  • Continuing on from the last point, the patient may need a caregiver. Typically, this would be a woman from the patient’s family. Hence, their habits and routines are also affected.
  • Abandonment of household chores and daily tasks.
  • Impact on the patient’s working life. For example, they might be forced to temporarily abandon their career. Furthermore, their caregiver may have to do the same.
  • Negative effects on the patient’s and their family’s financial situation.
  • Loss of social relations.

Psychological and emotional effects

The psychological effects of chronic illness are the following (López Ibor, 2007):

  • Anxiety. This could be due to uncertainty about the future or symptoms of pain.
  • Depression.
  • Adaptation problems. Sufferers may struggle to deal with a situation that’s completely changed their life.
  • Fear of the unknown. Fear of pain.
  • In some instances, fear of death. Especially in illnesses such as cardiovascular disease or cancer.
  • Feelings of guilt or regret. The patient often punishes themselves, thinking about what they’ve done wrong or what they could’ve done better.
A woman looking depressed.

In short, while it’s obvious that treatment for the disease is a priority, the psychosocial effects also need to be taken into account.

Consequently, the mental and emotional health of the patient, as well as those close to them, must be considered. Furthermore, both the sufferer’s social environment and the support it offers them are extremely important. All of these factors form a fundamental part of a patient’s ability to live with chronic illness.

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