People with chronic illnesses encounter psychological challenges, usually secondarily related to the actual physical cause of the illness. These could be depression and anxiety. Therefore, one of the missions of health psychologists is to help people deal with their psychological reactions to their problems, particularly if the illness has long-term repercussions.
A stage model has been proposed of how people react when they realize that they have a serious, chronic and perhaps life-threatening illness.
* Stage 1 – Shock: This stage occurs when a person is stunned, bewildered and feel detached.
* Stage 2 – Encounter: This stage occurs when the person gives way to feelings of despair, loss, grief and hopelessness. People are unable to function properly and effectively at this stage. They do not think well, have difficulty in planning and they are ineffective in solving problems.
* Stage 3 – Retreat: During this stage individuals often try to deny the existence of the problem or at least the implications of what the problem means to them.
* Stage 4 – Adjustment: When people reach this stage they make whatever adjustments are necessary to live with the reality of the disease.
Patients may try to find meaning in their experience of illness. They may try to figure out what they were doing that led to the illness and fix this behaviour, or they may simply rethink their own attitudes and priorities, in light of their new perspective. They may then try to gain a sense of control over the illness and their lives. This could be the seeking of information, or undertaking in activities that they believe that will help to restore functioning. A patient will then restore their self-esteem, by comparing their situations with those of others in ways that will shed a favourable light on theirs.
There exists a model known as the Crisis Model that says that there are 3 sets of factors that will determine how well a person copes with an illness. These are:
1. Background and Personal Factors: such as emotional maturity, self-esteem, religious beliefs and age. Men are more likely to respond negatively to diseases that compromise their ability to work.
2. Illness-related factors: such as how disabling, painful or life threatening the disease is. The greater the disability and threat, the more difficulty people have doping with the illness.
3. Environmental Factors: such as social supports, the ability of the person to remain financially stable, and the kinds of conditions in which a person lives.