We Can't Ignore the Connection Between Chronic Illness and Suicide

Young woman closing her eyes in shadows

There are so many things to consider when dealing with the chronic illness of a loved
one.  Medications. Lifestyle changes. Alleviating the physical suffering. Balancing employment with doctor’s appointments. Home schooling vs. brick and mortar school. The decisions can seem endless, but has everything been considered?

How about: Is my loved one at risk for suicide?

Increased suicidal ideation has been found in chronic illness populations like chronic fatigue syndrome, myalgic encephalomyelitis, fibromyalgia, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Many people with these medical conditions also have chronic pain and sleep disturbances — also known risk factors for suicide. What’s scary is that in chronic illness, your loved one doesn’t have to be clinically depressed in order to contemplate suicide.

Special issues that increase suicidal thoughts in those with chronic illness: 

– Lack of quality medical care to treat complex, chronic illnesses.

– Physical illness that leads to decreased mobility, poor memory, confusion and overall poor quality of life.

– Claims that the illness is “all in your head” by friends, family and healthcare practitioners.

– Withdrawal of love and/or support due to the impact of chronic illness.

– Financial pressures from medical bills, medication costs and the inability to work.

– Feelings of isolation and loneliness.

– Perception that they are a burden to family and friends.

– Loss of hope for recovery or improvement in quality of life.

How can you decrease the likelihood of suicidal thoughts in your loved one with a chronic illness? 

Believe them. The best thing you can do is beleive them when they talk about their symptoms or the way they are feeling. Invisible illnesses — like POTS, fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis — have the added difficulty that their pain can’t be easily measured. When most people get sick, they have a fever, swollen glands or runny nose that allows others to see that they are not feeling well. That is not the case for people living with invisible illnesses. What does it look like if a person is dizzy? Can you assess their level of fatigue without feeling it yourself? What does neuropathic pain look like to the outside observer? Believe your loved one!

Add Comment