By: Urmika Balaji, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Fauzia Haque, Editor; Elias Azizi, Editor in Chief
When you think of a disability, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? You might think of a person in a wheelchair, a person who is blind or deaf, or anything that appears as a physical handicap. However, disabilities are not always physical, they can be much more internal than we realize. Many of these conditions are psychological, and are so unacknowledged in society to a point where they are dismissed and left for individuals to handle on their own. Some of these “invisible” disabilities include chronic dizziness, chronic fatigue, mental disorders, and chronic pain. This article will discuss the symptoms of each disability, how it can affect an individual’s life, and the types of treatment offered for the disability.
Chronic Dizziness is often caused by anxiety disorders, migraines, traumatic brain injuries, and dysautonomia (issues with the autonomic nervous system) (Jama Network). Chronic dizziness can come in three forms: vertigo, a false sense of spinning, presyncope, a feeling of lightheadedness, and disequilibrium, a feeling of instability. Individuals with chronic dizziness often experience a false sense of spinning, loss of balance, a floating sensation, or lightheadedness over prolonged periods of time (Mayo Clinic). Chronic Dizziness is often diagnosed incorrectly, and standard medications for dizziness often are ineffective. Patients often undergo a combination of physical therapy, behavioral therapy, and medical treatment. Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy is a form of exercise-based physical treatment that can improve balance and posture to alleviate symptoms of dizziness. 79% of patients undergoing VRT have seen improvement in their chronic dizziness symptoms (Fyzical). VRT is often combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a behavior therapy that targets and replaces negative-thought patterns with positive thought patterns, which can reduce chronic dizziness symptoms and improve anxiety and other mental illnesses that cause chronic dizziness. In addition, certain medications are prescribed depending on the cause of the chronic dizziness. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs are prescribed for chronic dizziness caused by anxiety. Anti-migraines are prescribed for dizziness caused by migraines to reduce the duration and severity of the dizziness. Anti-histamines and anticholinergics are also prescribed to alleviate nausea. Chronic dizziness can interfere with individuals’ daily routines.
Chronic Fatigue is a disorder that is characterized by extreme fatigue for periods over 6 months (Mayo Clinic). Individuals with this condition often experience unrefreshing sleep, difficulties with focus and memory, and dizziness. Chronic fatigue can occur as a result of viral infections, issues with the immune system, hormonal issues, or physical or emotional trauma. While its effects do not typically affect physical appearance, many individuals with chronic fatigue tend to feel depressed or socially isolated, which can cause increased lifestyle restriction or work absences. There is no approved medical treatment for chronic fatigue, but many individuals benefit from counseling, dietary changes, sleep routine changes, and exercising (Mayo Clinic).
1 in 4 adults suffers from a mental disorder every year (Hopkins Medicine). Many mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, OCD, ADHD, PTSD, dyslexia, autism, and schizophrenia can severely affect an individual’s ability to participate in normal activities. Mental illness can often develop as a result of trauma, family history, stress, and chronic medical conditions (Mayo Clinic). Treatment for these conditions can include psychotherapy, medication, and peer support to manage symptoms (MHA). Conditions like autism and dyslexia are typically treated with therapy and special education from a young age (WebMD). The medical treatments used are typically psychotropic medications, which increase or decrease the production of specific neurotransmitters to affect the level of a certain hormone, helping to counter the effects of a mental disorder (WebMD). These include antidepressants for treating depression, anti-anxiety medication for anxiety disorders, stimulants for ADHD, antipsychotics for PTSD, OCD, ADHD, eating disorders, and depression, and mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder and extreme mood swings (WebMD).
Chronic pain is pain that exists anywhere from weeks to years. Chronic pain can result from an injury or illness that has long been recovered from, but the pain still exists. Chronic pain can negatively affect working and eating habits, physical activity, and other aspects of daily life. It can also lead to depression and insomnia. Medical treatment for chronic pain can include anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and acetaminophen, strong pain-relief drugs such as opioids, antidepressants, heat and cold treatments for reducing stiffness and pain in arthritis patients, physical therapy, electric stimulation under the skin of affected areas, and injection therapy. However, it can also be treated with exercise, acupuncture and emotional and psychological therapy (Hopkins Medicine).
We do not always know what is going on in a person’s life, and invisible disabilities are one of the aspects that can severely affect an individual’s life without anyone in their social circle even knowing. If you know someone with an invisible disability, make sure that you are providing a safe and inclusive space for them. Do not invalidate their emotions based on stereotypes of mental disabilities. Every human, regardless of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and disabilities, deserves to be treated equally with respect.