• Gail Richards

What You Don’t See DOES Hurt Me

LOOK AGAIN: Invisible illnesses are real (and everywhere)

FACT: The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that over 150 million Americans are afflicted with a chronic illness.

FACT: The US Census Bureau assesses that 96% of chronic illnesses are invisible.

FACT: Many people, including healthcare providers, dismiss the complaints of individuals with invisible illnesses, assuming that it is ‘all in their head.’


What does this mean to you? It's easy to spot someone in pain or with a disability when they have a wheelchair, canes, disfiguration, an external hearing aid or a multitude of other visible/sensory cues. Never judge a book by its cover. Anyone you meet could be suffering from an invisible illness.


What can you do if you learn that a loved one, co-worker, or someone you meet is challenged by an illness --- that is invisible outwardly? We’ve compiled a list of proactive, supportive things you can do to foster healthy interactions. (This information was curated and combined from a variety of helpful sites which are listed and linked to below).

  • Validate the illness; affirm the person. Ask questions to fully understand the condition, including the extent and severity of the symptoms so that you can genuinely empathize.

  • Be flexible. Individuals with chronic invisible illness can feel good and function well one day, then be incapacitated the next---often without warning. Follow their lead, not what you observe from the outside.

  • Brain fog is a thing. Tune in to when someone is struggling with reading comprehension, memory, attention, or driving.

  • Don’t assume; confirm. Just because someone is enjoying themselves, laughing, and participating in activities does not mean that they are pain or symptom-free. Many people with invisible illnesses have developed coping skills for times they want or need to participate with others.

  • Don’t coddle. People with invisible illnesses are normal people. Don't talk down to them or make them feel less than or helpless.

  • You do not have superpowers You cannot make this person better or change the course of their illness. Your role is to support them and that is immeasurably important.

  • Leave your detective skills at home. For heaven’s sake, don’t drown people with an invisible illness in internet stories of miraculous recoveries.

  • Advocate. Speak up when others do not understand the situation and are acting ignorantly or insensitively.


This post was created with gratitude to the following organizations, individuals, and websites:

Social Work Today

The Mighty

Disabled World

Just Bobbi

Northwest Primary Care

AMA Journal of Ethics

Creaky Joints

#invisibleillness, #chronicillness, #vestibular, #socialworktoday, #themighty, #disabledworld, #justbobbi, #nwpc, #amajournalofethics, #creakyjoints, #dontjudgeabook, #gyrostim

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