Living with a chronic illness can be challenging, but the ability to derive benefits and grow from this experience may enhance well-being. However, the possibility of obtaining such benefits may be dependent on the levels of stigmatization and lack of social support experienced by an individual as a result of the illness. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia are chronic conditions that remain largely unexplained and those with these conditions must often contend with stigma and skepticism from others. Individuals with CFS/fibromyalgia often display stress-related biological alterations and the experience of stressful life events has been associated with illness development. The present study demonstrated that women with CFS/fibromyalgia (n = 40) as well as community participants who were depressed/anxious (n = 37), reported higher stigma levels than healthy women (n = 33). Moreover, women with CFS/fibromyalgia and those with depression/anxiety also reported greater levels of stigma than women with a chronic yet more widely accepted condition (n = 35; rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and multiple sclerosis). Secrecy related to stigma among those with CFS/fibromyalgia declined with increased social support, but this was not apparent among those with other chronic conditions. In addition, posttraumatic growth was lower among women with CFS/fibromyalgia compared to those with other chronic conditions. Qualitative analysis examining both negative impacts and positive changes stemming from illness experience revealed many similarities between women with CFS/fibromyalgia and those with other chronic conditions, including elevated appreciation for life, personal growth and compassion for others. However, women with CFS/fibromyalgia tended to report less positive change regarding interpersonal relationships compared to women with other chronic conditions. In general, unexplained illnesses were also accompanied by stigmatization which might ultimately contribute to womens lower ability to derive positive growth from their illness experience.

Additional Metadata
Keywords chronic fatigue syndrome, Chronic illness, fibromyalgia, negative social interactions, posttraumatic growth, social connections
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.3109/10253890.2014.1001975
Journal Stress
Citation
McInnis, O.A. (Opal A.), McQuaid, R.J. (Robyn J.), Bombay, A. (Amy), Matheson, K, & Anisman, H. (2015). Finding benefit in stressful uncertain circumstances: Relations to social support and stigma among women with unexplained illnesses. Stress, 18(2), 169–177. doi:10.3109/10253890.2014.1001975