7 Unfairly Stigmatized Health Issues You Should Know More About

by Eva Taylor Grant
BDG Media, Inc.

For people with stigmatized diagnoses, it is pretty clear that there are certain health conditions that a lot of people just can't wrap their heads around. Millennial health issues are broad, but they're going to continue to be misunderstood unless the stigma-fighting conversation goes mainstream.

"It's time that we end the shame and stigma that surround so many medical conditions," health and wellness coach at Maple Holistics Caleb Backe tells Bustle. "By stigmatizing potentially embarrassing and sensitive diagnoses we effectively discourage people from getting the necessary help and care they need to move past their sickness." Especially since, in the United States, 20 percent of adults experiences mental illness and 40 percent have a chronic illness, it's really time to be more open and honest with one another.

It's important to remember that whenever you make light of a certain health condition that affects many people, someone with a diagnosis recoils. Plus, when you let yourself think that way, you risk losing sight of your own wellbeing as well. The first step, then, is understanding the truth about the health issues millennials really go through — beyond the stereotypes.

Here are seven misunderstood diagnoses millennials should be talking about more, according to experts.


Eating Disorders

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You might not know it from movies and TV, but eating disorders are seriously diverse. "Media portrayals of eating disorders often paint a very narrow image of the kind of person who struggles and the sort of experience they have, so public perception is skewed," Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, tells Bustle. "Couple that with the fact that it’s often very difficult to talk about mental health in our culture, and you end up with a lot of myths and misinformation." Eating disorders (EDs) can happen to anyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, size, sexuality, or economic background. And around 30 million Americans will have an ED at some point in their lives.

"[This means that] roughly one in ten Americans will struggle with a full-blown eating disorder at some point in their lives, and these dangerous illnesses can have serious psychological consequences and can cause damage to all organ systems," Mysko says. "But it’s also important for millennials to know that eating disorders are treatable and that recovery is possible, especially with early intervention." It's a total myth that a certain body shape or size is a criteria for these illnesses.

Editor's Notes: If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.



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It can sound pretty casual to throw around "I'm such an alcoholic" after a night of heavy drinking. But this kind of language is undermining the reality of a very serious diagnosis. "Millennials often joke about being an alcoholic without really knowing the full definition or impact that alcoholism can have on a person," Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD, licensed clinic social worker (LCSW) at Ambrosia Treatment Center tells Bustle. The stereotype of the alcoholic who can't function or ever put down a drink is masking the reality of what addiction may look like.

Alcoholism, which is often genetic, according to Dr. Raichbach, leaves certain people predisposed to a different reaction to drinking. This means that if you find yourself unable to drink socially with friends, you may have a disease, not a character flaw or anything of the sort.

So if you find yourself experiencing signs of alcoholism, you can and should seek support in whatever way that works. And it's not just Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) either. There a variety of treatment options out there.



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Anyone who has ever had sex can get an STI. So can the judging stop already? "It’s important to understand your risk, and know how to prevent the spread of STIs," Julia Bennett, Director of Learning Strategy, Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America tells Bustle. "STIs are on the rise in the U.S., and half of all STIs are in people under 25. Young people make up the largest percentage of new HIV infections in the U.S. each year." So read up on safe sex (Planned Parenthood has some great materials) and always go to the doctor if you have any concerns. "All STIs, including HIV and herpes, are treatable, and many are curable. Early treatment can help prevent more serious health problems that can result down the road from untreated STIs," Bennett says.

Knowing all this is part of keeping things sexy in general. "Getting comfortable talking with your partner about STIs, getting tested, and staying safe are all integral parts of having a smart, empowered, and healthy sex life," Bennett says. Plus, what better way to say #ThankYouCecile than going to a clinic?


Sleep Apnea

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Even Amy Poehler has it. But people are still quite confused about sleep apnea. "The illness is typically thought of as middle aged or older males that are overweight," Dr. Damien Stevens, from the University of Kansas Health System, tells Bustle. Let's crack this misconception first. There are other variables as random as having a wide neck circumference or a naturally narrow throat that can put someone at risk for sleep apnea.

"There is also a fair amount of confusion as related to snoring and what is the difference and relationship to snoring," Dr. Stevens says. While sleep apnea of course can include loud snoring, there are a ton of other symptoms. According to Mayo Clinic, these include irritability, morning headache, daytime sleepiness, waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat, and attention problems. Plus, sleep apnea causes people to literally stop breathing in their sleep, and can lead to heart attack and cancer down the line. So if you or your partner are noticing something out of the ordinary, go check it out.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

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IBS, which stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a very common condition that affects the function and behavior of the intestines. And according to Mayo Clinic, being young, female, or having mental health problems are major risk factors.

"The most common symptoms include bloating, stomach cramps, excess gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Although there’s no clear answer as to what causes irritable bowel syndrome, research indicates that it is a combination of environmental and genetic factors," Backe says. This painful condition is actually so hurtful — due to both symptoms and social stigma — that it is actually known to cause mental health issues, too. "IBS has been known to lead to somatic symptom disorder (SSD). This psychological condition is an extreme reaction to the symptoms of a physical disorder," Backe says. So keep an eye on your digestion, take care of your mental health, and know that you are not alone if you receive this diagnosis.


Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

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Another fun fact: IBS and IBD are not the same thing. Irritable Bowel Disease, or IBD, is an umbrella term for two separate diagnoses: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. According to the Crohn's And Colitis Foundation, both diseases are chronic inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn's can affect any part of the tract, and colitis is limited to the colon. Both diagnoses are seriously misunderstood.

"Because the diseases involve the gastrointestinal tract, people automatically assume these diseases are 'bathroom diseases,'" Rebecca H. Kaplan, Public Affairs & Social Media Manager at the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, tells Bustle. In reality, Kaplan says, the conditions can include debilitating pain, weight loss, malnutrition, and complications in joints, bones, kidneys, skin, and eyes. Stress, anxiety, and depression often show up too. Also, Kaplan says, IBD is extremely common. "One in 200 people in the United States are living with IBD, which means it's likely that you may know someone with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis," Kaplan says. "And patients are most often diagnosed between the ages of 15-35, so if you are experiencing gastrointestinal issues, see a doctor sooner than later." Luckily, a bunch of treatment options and support systems are out there. Chronic illness has nothing on you.



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ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) may seem like something more common in children, but this isn't true. "Millennials should know more about ADHD because once a correct diagnosis is made, their lives can improve remarkably," Edward (Ned) Hallowell, M.D. tells Bustle. "When this trait is managed, it can actually propel you to heights you may not have dreamed of otherwise." One key to a correct diagnosis? Knowing that ADHD doesn't always include hyperactivity. These cases can look like having an inability to follow through on assignments at work or at school, misplacing things, avoiding tasks, or getting distracted easily.

Regardless of their symptoms, says Dr. Hallowell, a person with ADHD doesn't need more discipline or to try harder. They need encouraging treatment. "Once you know you have [ADHD], you can work with someone ... to turn it into an asset," Dr. Hallowell says.

When it comes to misunderstood diagnoses, breaking down barriers and stigmas is helpful for everyone, regardless of their health status. Yes, some things, like making more representative film and television, take really hard work. Little things like honoring your body and going to the doctor are definitely more simple. But in the case of some diagnoses, it's equally powerful.