The reality of living with a chronic illness and how to get support
Research conducted by the UK Government revealed that around 12.8 million or 31% of working age people in the UK have long-term health conditions. It’s important to note that many chronic health conditions are 'invisible illnesses’ such as migraines, chronic pain, and mental illnesses meaning they aren’t always visible just by looking at someone. Across the UK population, that equates to as many as 1 in 3 working-age people which is an enormous pool of people who are suffering.
What to do if you are part of the 1 in 3
The first thing to remember is you’re not alone, there are millions of people who know your struggle. Invisible or not, serious health conditions have an impact on our ability to live our lives and perform at work and this should be recognised. The last few years have been marked by Covid, the long-term effects of which are still relatively unknown. In the coming years, many people will find themselves with long-Covid and other health concerns as a result of battling the condition. Long-term health conditions can negatively impact a person’s overall wellbeing from causing physical constraints, mental strain, and social limitations to the financial impact of frequent absences from work or having difficulty keeping a job due to extended periods of illness.
Speak up and get the support you need from your employer
There is a common misconception that people with long-term medical conditions are less able to perform at work, this of course depends entirely on the nature of the job. With some adjustments and considerations from an employer, more people with health conditions would be able to work. If your employer is aware of your conditions, they can plan for and mitigate any support you might need. Not all workplaces are open and accepting and workplace discrimination can be an issue. However, legally employees are protected from workplace discrimination through legislation. By making your voice heard you can receive the support you need both in and out of work so you have fair access to employment and the resources you need to be able to contribute to the best of your ability.
Workplace support in action
Some employers have benefits programmes such as an On Demand GP service allowing for virtual calls with a doctor. Such services are especially helpful if you are a shift worker who finds themselves unable to easily see the doctor during their typical working hours. They may also offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). EAPs provide access to a 24/7 helpline where you can speak with trained advisors about anything that's worrying you and get actionable advice. Alternatively, you can schedule a face-to-face or phone session with a professional counsellor. Talk to your employer and check if they provide any of these services.
Join a support group
As mentioned earlier there are millions of people dealing with chronic health conditions day in and day out. Seek out a support group to find people in a similar situation who understand your struggle, they offer a sense of belonging as you’re all likely facing similar challenges. There are face-to-face and virtual groups for most conditions and a community to be found.
How to support your colleagues
Being empathic is an underrated but essential workplace quality. Treating others, the way we want to be treated is key to fostering a workplace environment where colleagues feel safe and understood. It is often hard to tell what someone is going through from their appearance, which is especially true for chronic and invisible illnesses. Though we may be curious, it’s important to respect our colleague’s privacy. Asking too many personal questions about their condition can make them feel uncomfortable. If they’ve trusted you with their diagnosis respect their privacy and keep it to yourself. The takeaway is remembering to help where you can (without causing harm to yourself first and foremost) and treating others with kindness.
Unfortunately, illness can strike at any time, often it is not something we can predict but it is something we can prepare for. Consider taking out a health insurance policy which is a sure way to protect you and those you care about in the event that you can’t work and pay your bills.
Another important thing to remember is the value of becoming familiar with your body’s rhythm and flow. That way you are better able to spot if something changes or is indeed wrong. Many conditions can be helped by early detection, and even most chronic illnesses can be managed better if dealt with early.
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