SCSU Professor studies “invisible illness” phenomenon

Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.
Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A Southern Connecticut State University professor studies the way people perceive invisible illnesses.

Assistant Professor of Communications Melanie Savelli says the term “invisible illness is used describe a medical condition or injury that is not visible to the naked eye.

For instance, you may see someone park in a handicapped parking space with no visible signs of distress, such as limping. That situation may mislead people into thinking that person is not entitled to park in a handicapped spot.

But, that individual could have an ailment such as complex regional pain syndrome, a condition that causes an excruciating burning sensation without warning. Someone suffering from that disorder may walk away from their car looking perfectly healthy, but may have trouble walking back.

“Invisible illnesses are unique because you can’t see the cause of the problem. People can see a broken arm and understand the restrictions of the sufferer, but people may not understand things that can’t be seen like fibromyalgia, arthritis or migraines. It’s easy to correlate noticeable problems with being sick, but it is more difficult to perceive an illness when you can’t see the cause.” – Prof. Melanie Savelli

In Savelli’s studies, she found the most effective way to ward off any confusion, is for those with an invisible ailment, to communicate their condition to people around them. Savelli says that  both a verbal explanation and a non-verbal cue, such as wearing a leg brace, is still less effective than if someone were only to communicate their condition to others.