Invisible disabilities are defined as chronic illnesses and conditions that significantly impair normal activities of daily living, but may not be as obvious as other impairments. Invisible illnesses cover a range of diseases including the physical and psychological. As these conditions may not be immediately obvious to others, many people living with invisible illnesses experience unfair discrimination, harassment, or stigma.
The list below covers some of the more common invisible illnesses, however there are many more conditions causing sufferers pain and hardship.
Common Invisible Illnesses
Chronic pain affects 1 in 5 Australians and refers to persistent, ongoing pain. Conditions include migraines, osteoporosis, neuropathic pain, visceral pain, arthritis and other musculoskeletal ailments.
Chronic fatigue can occur at any age and can affect a person’s nervous system. The main symptom is extreme exhaustion which can result after performing what is considered by others as an everyday activity, like catching a train or walking to work. This can present as flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat and tender lymph nodes.
Lupus is a condition that revolves around the immune system, where your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, resulting in constant pain and inflammation.
Fibromyalgia is an illness where sufferers experience pain and stiffness of muscles. Affecting 2% to 5% of the population, fibromyalgia symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Endometriosis is a condition where cells grow on the outside of the uterus. Symptoms can include painful periods, pelvic pain and fatigue or nausea. 1 in 10 women suffer from endometriosis, with the condition affecting many areas of a woman’s life, including emotional and physical wellbeing.
Mental Illness encompasses a range of conditions that affect a person’s behaviour and thinking. One in five Australians will experience mental illness throughout their life with the most common conditions being anxiety and depressive disorders.
Living with an Invisible Illness
Many people living with invisible illnesses deal with daily stigma due to misunderstandings and a lack of knowledge. Using disability parking has become more frustrating for sufferers as they face contention from others.
Blue Badge Insurance Australia conducted a survey around disability parking, with over 600 respondents. 68% of respondents held a current disability parking permit yet 77% of permit holders had faced harassment while parking.  They experienced a range of abuse, including verbal harassment and rude notes. Respondents felt threatened and frustrated with this behaviour, feeling guilty even though they knew that they had the right to use their disability permit.
But to help to counteract this there are various initiatives helping to provide awareness for invisible illnesses and reduce the stigma and confusion surrounding them.
Think Outside The Chair is an initiative created in Australia and designed to challenge and change the current thinking around disabilities. They are seeking to inform and educate people to celebrate inclusion and diversity in an effort to see beyond the wheelchair as the main symbol of a disability.
Please Offer Me A Seat is a UK campaign implemented throughout London transport services. Designed to assist those with invisible illnesses, people can apply for a free badge and card that can help alert other passengers that they require a seat on public transport.
With more awareness for invisible illnesses, more people can understand that what they see on the surface is not the full story.
 Australian Government Department of Health. https://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-w-whatmen-toc~mental-pubs-w-whatmen-what