Living with chronic illness

A chronic illness is wearing. It isn’t going to go away soon. It isn’t something that can be cured after a course of treatment. Chronic illness is long term and affects a person’s physical and mental health. Conditions such as Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Disease, Crohns or IBD, Diabetes, Asthma and Epilepsy are all chronic health conditions that impact the lives of many school, college and university students.
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For a child or young person living with a chronic illness it’s is all about management. Management of symptoms, management of treatment, all while managing the general ups and downs of growing up.

Some conditions rely on time consuming treatment plans such as daily physiotherapy or exercise. Others involved invasive procedures such as injections or frequent blood tests. Restriction of food choices or time dependent food intake can negatively impact on ‘normal’ life for some. Unpredictable relapse or crisis is constantly in the background.

Most young people growing up want nothing more than to conform, fit in and do what friends are doing. However, when your health relies on doing things that make you stand out or exclude you from joining in with your classmates that can be really tough. Feelings of worry, anxiety, low mood, and anger are common but not necessarily associated with managing what is considered a physical health condition.

School staff can help children and young people manage the physical and mental health challenges in a numbers of ways:

  • Find out about any specific chronic health conditions your students may have so you know what they have to manage to stay well. You can find lots of information here:

  • Make sure they have an Individual healthcare Plan that details their condition, how it’s managed and what needs to be done in an emergency.

  • Look out for changes in behaviour/mood. This may a sign they are finding things more difficult to manage.

  • When individual adjustments are needed to support a young person, consider how they can be made so that the child or young person isn’t excluded or singled out. Talk to the young person (and their family in some cases) and find out what they think will work best. Many children and young people living with chronic health conditions are resilient, resourceful and contribute much to their school community.

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