Radical Relief

type - trends
category - society
sector - diversity & inclusion
sector - health & wellness
sector - youth
With chronic conditions rising and support systems failing for young people, digital communities are filling the gaps left by healthcare

Health in crisis

Young people in the developed world are typically considered to be paragons of youth and good health – at least when it comes to their physical wellbeing. But this assumption is not only untrue, it is feeding harmful misconceptions about invisible illnesses and who can be affected by them.

Young people are being diagnosed with chronic conditions at a startling rate – data from Blue Cross Blue Shield shows that one-third of Millennials have health conditions that reduce their quality of life, putting them on track to be one of the unhealthiest generations in US history. In Australia, 35–39% of 15–24-year-olds had one or more chronic conditions in 2017/2018 (source: Australian Bureau of Statistics).

As we deal with the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, these numbers are expected to rise. With an estimated 10% of people infected with Covid-19 going on to develop symptoms of long Covid, future strain is forecast for healthcare systems around the world (source: The Guardian). Recognition of long-term conditions is growing, however, thanks to a wave of celebrities going public with their chronic health journeys. Influential names from Lena Dunham to Lady Gaga and model Bella Hadid have all opened up about their experiences with chronic illnesses, welcoming conversation about how it affects their lives.

Published by:

15 March 2021

Author: Holly Friend

Image: The Yes, US


@thechroniciconic by Jessica Cummin, London

Destigmatising digital

Normally the preserve of glossy or playful content, TikTok and Instagram are transforming into places for young people with chronic illnesses to connect, support each other and create solutions outside of traditional healthcare.

Making waves on Instagram under the name The Chronic Iconic is Jessica Cummin, who has created and sold a t-shirt bearing the statement 'not getting well soon’ to steer the wellness conversation towards physical health. YouTuber Hannah Witton is taking aim at the stigmatisation of sexuality and disability. She speaks candidly about the experiences of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and her stoma bag, debunking myths that sex and masturbation are taboo topics for those with disabilities.

On TikTok, Generation Z are using humour to educate viewers on how chronic illnesses affect women – especially where male medical professionals are perceiving them as 'emotional and worriers'. In the Make it Stop challenge TikTokers recall their long diagnosis journeys while lip-synching to Disney songs.

Elsewhere, TikTok communities are banding together to create solutions. In January 2021, strangers co-created a pill bottle for a person with Parkinson’s disease who posted on TikTok about the difficulties in picking up small pills with shaky hands. Within a week, a prototype had been 3D-printed and its design made open-source.

Rehabilitation clubs

As this conversation becomes more deeply entwined with youth culture, dedicated membership clubs are radically rethinking the concept of the support system.

‘A lot of messaging around chronic illness is still inspiration porn; we need to build on the ways the sick and disabled are represented’
Sara Radin, culture writer

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