What is it?
Chronic health issues and disabilities are common conditions anyone can be faced with—in some cases, at the same time—that may impact overall functioning and mental health.
Chronic health issues are long-lasting medical conditions that require ongoing medical care. Nearly half of the U.S. population has at least one chronic health issue. They’re even more common among adults 65 or older—80% have at least one, and 68% have two or more issues.1 These challenges usually require support or ongoing care and can make it difficult to enjoy daily life. Cancer, heart disease, pain, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's are common examples.
Disabilities are conditions that limit a person’s interactions with the world. One out of four U.S. adults live with at least one disability.
Disabilities can impair body or mind functions, limit common activities like seeing or hearing, or restrict participation in daily activities such as work and social life. These can be temporary or ongoing; observed or “hidden.” Disabilities can affect people in a variety of ways, and even the same disability might affect two people differently.
If you have a disability, you might experience changes in your vision, movement, thinking, memory and learning—any of which could affect how you communicate to others, how you navigate your relationships, and your overall mindset.
While chronic health issues and disabilities are often long-term conditions and may look a little different for everyone, they can be managed. Despite unfounded negative stereotypes, people with chronic health issues and people with disabilities live productive, empowered and fulfilling lives.
What's causing it?
Interconnected factors can cause chronic health issues and disabilities. When you age, your risk of chronic health issues increases. And, chronic health issues can lead to disabilities. Biology, whether your own genetic traits or the environment around you, can play a role, too.
Chronic health issues can arise from a combination of genetic, physical, environmental and lifestyle factors. Chronic conditions last more than a year and require ongoing medical attention. They may also limit your ability to do day-to-day activities.
Biological factors such as aging, genetics and our physical environment can play a role in chronic health issues, too. Certain behaviors such as using tobacco, eating a poor diet, having a sedentary lifestyle (lack of exercise or physical activity) and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can also cause or contribute to health challenges.
Disabilities have many causes, including injuries or conditions you’re born with; however, chronic health issues are the leading cause of disabilities in the U.S. When a chronic condition affects your body or mind to a degree in which your everyday activities and interactions are limited, it can be considered a disability. For example, diabetes might lead to vision loss, or anxiety could prevent you from being able to do your job.
Related emotions, moods and life challenges
It’s not uncommon for chronic health issues and disabilities to be accompanied by complicated feelings, or for them to be related to certain situations many of us experience.
An existing condition could be worsened by a chronic health issue or disability. And, a chronic health issue or disability could also be the cause of new conditions.
How should I deal with it?
As people age, they are more likely to continually develop health challenges that may be disabling. Being diagnosed with a chronic health issue or developing a disability are major changes that may trigger feelings of loss for the way life used to be.
It’s important to allow yourself to experience your emotions so you can accept reality and move forward. It’s also important to understand that while aging and chronic health conditions are normal, there are still ways to feel in control of your medical situation so that it has minimal interference with the life you want to live.
Though the transition can be difficult, it is possible for you to manage—and even lessen—the impact of your conditions on your emotional health. Looking for moments of gratitude, keeping up with your medical care, getting support from family and friends and prioritizing your well-being can help you thrive and enjoy your life. Mental health professionals can also help you with this transition.
Depending on your situation, there may also be legal protections and government resources available for navigating the workplace, accessing health care or dealing with financial issues, which could alleviate some of the stress.
Things to try
If you’re dealing with feelings and mental health challenges related to chronic health issues or disabilities, here are some small things you can do to start building long-term, positive habits.
- Grief & loss ,
- Loneliness ,
- Sadness ,
- Worry ,
- Chronic health issues & disabilities ,
- Relationship issues & breakups
- Grief & loss ,
- Loneliness ,
- Sadness ,
- Worry ,
- Opening up to friends & family ,
- Relationship issues & breakups ,
- Chronic health issues & disabilities
What can I do now?
Dealing with chronic health issues and disabilities can make anyone feel like there’s a long journey ahead. But while that journey might seem long, remember that many folks are going through it, too. There are resources that can help you take control of your situation, and there are support options that can help you feel empowered to manage your physical and mental health now and in the future.
Online directory | Support groupFind Support Groups | Mental Health AmericaMental Health America offers a list of online and in-person support groups for different communities, mental health conditions, and life challenges.
Helpline | Online Live ChatDisability and Information Access Line (DIAL) | Administration for Community Living (ACL)Contact the Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) by calling (888) 677-1199 Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET or email DIAL@usaginganddisability.org. DIAL helps people with disabilities get connected to information about local community resources that support independent living.
Helpline24-hour Deaf Crisis Line | DeafLEADDeafLEAD is a non-profit agency that provides 24-hour crisis intervention, advocacy, case management, interpreting and mental health services to Deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind, and late-deafened individuals who are victims of crime and their families, as well as support to individuals, agencies, and organizations providing victim services to individuals with a hearing loss.
- National Council on Aging. Top 10 Most Common Chronic Conditions in Older Adults