Call for greater acceptance of ‘invisible’ illness as new research shows people battle stigma and cynicism about pain’s impact
New research has revealed eight in 10 Australians are currently living with pain, sparking a call for greater understanding of the country’s ‘invisible’ illness.
Findings from the survey commissioned by Amcal Pharmacy has highlighted the silent struggles faced by those experiencing ongoing pain as sufferers fight to make their voices heard amid changes to codeine prescription regulations.
Despite more than three-quarters of the population regularly experiencing ‘invisible’ illnesses including migraines, back pain and muscular pain, many still find themselves battling the stigma and cynicism surrounding their condition.
Unlike a broken bone or other obvious injury, people living with ‘invisible’ conditions say they often encounter scepticism from friends, family and colleagues and, in some cases, struggle to convince medical professionals that their pain is real.
As a result, many pain sufferers turn to self-diagnosis and management in a bid to avoid being seen as ‘complaining’ by friends, family and health professionals.
Amcal Spokesperson and senior pharmacist James Nevile said their team of pharmacists were well-prepared to support the community through the codeine changes and guide consumers towards effective pain relief alternatives.
“We understand that the changes to pain medication laws could cause anxiety among those who have become accustomed to using codeine-based painkillers to manage their condition,” he said.
“So we’re encouraging sufferers to seek advice on the spectrum of treatment options available, and talk to their Pharmacist about a personalised pain management plan.
“Fundamentally, our goal is to ensure pain sufferers continue to have access to short term pain relief options in pharmacy after these changes take place, and work with GPs to find appropriate long-term pain management solutions for patients,” Mr Nevile said.
Further findings showed that most sufferers worry they will be seen as ‘complaining constantly’ if they talk about their pain, while more than a third feel ‘judged’ at work if they have to take a sick day.
Two-fifths of pain sufferers feel guilty for taking a sick day and instead more than half choose to soldier on through the pain, refusing to take sick leave throughout the year.
Experts have suggested that these societal sentiments may be leading pain sufferers to hide their pain with more than a quarter admitting they wouldn’t tell their colleagues if they were in discomfort for fear of judgement. Moreover, 28% would conceal their pain from close friends and more than one in 10 keeps their condition hidden from their spouse.
“Our research showed that close to one in five Australians knows someone who suffers from pain, but they don’t really understand what is endured each day,” Mr Nevile said.
“While we can empathise with loved ones who live with pain, the challenge lies in knowing what they are actually feeling; unless we have experienced it for ourselves, it’s understandably hard to empathise.”
When questioned about the impacts of pain on everyday life, many sufferers say they often miss out on social events with friends and family, while others avoid playing with their kids or grandkids, and put off intimacy with their partner, because it exacerbates their condition.
“Pain can significantly impact a person’s life and should never be underestimated. It can prevent people from engaging fully with their family, friends and work and often, the emotional effects of living with pain are just as bad as the physical,” Mr Nevile said.
“While there is clearly a need for greater awareness of ‘invisible’ illness, we can endeavour to better understand and respect the physical and mental limitations of those who may be suffering silently around us.”