Teaching about Chronic Illness and Its Effects

5 min read

| By Elizabeth Mohn |

Chronic illnesses are long-lasting illnesses that require ongoing treatment and management. Chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are leading causes of death and poor health outcomes in the United States. Millions of Americans have or know someone who has one or more of these illnesses, making chronic illness an important topic for Americans to understand. The Gale In Context: High School new Chronic Illness portal is an engaging, easy-to-use resource for learning about chronic illness, types of chronic illnesses, and the impact of chronic illnesses on individuals and groups.

Defining Chronic Illness

The first step in understanding chronic illness is to understand the term’s definition. Students can better understand the term in a broad way by reading the portal’s overview. Students will better understand that, in general, the term chronic illness refers to long-term illnesses that require continued treatment and management. However, students will also learn that different groups have differing definitions of chronic illness. For example, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that chronic illnesses are those that limit people’s abilities and affect their everyday lives. Other public health organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), do not include this factor in their definition of the disease.

Teachers can highlight these slightly varied definitions of chronic illness and use the opportunity to discuss how different groups will use slightly different definitions for terms based on their own cultural and societal differences and based on their specific focus. For example, teachers can point out that the CDC is focused on describing the term mostly as it applies to people living in the United States, but the WHO is focused on applying the term more broadly: as it applies to people from around the world. Teachers can begin a discussion about other terms that have varying definitions, depending on the individual or group defining them.  

Examples of Chronic Illness

Once students understand the broad definition of chronic illness, they can better understand chronic illness in general by learning about specific chronic illnesses, including their development, treatment, and effects. The Chronic Illness portal has links to articles and other resources that can help students better understand chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

For example, students can access the reference article “Heart Disease” to learn about an illness that is currently the leading cause of death in the United States. This article explains that heart disease includes various conditions that damage the heart. From the article, students can also learn about the risk factors for developing heart disease, such as having a family history of the disease and having other health issues, such as diabetes or high cholesterol. Students can also learn about treatments for the disease, which include diet and lifestyle modifications. They can access similar types of information about other chronic illnesses in the reference articles “Cancer” and “Diabetes.” Teachers can help students better understand chronic illness by encouraging them to compare the causes and treatments of these diseases. They can ask students to consider whether these three chronic illnesses have any broad similarities and what that might tell them about chronic illnesses in general.

Effects on Individuals and Society

Once students have a firm understanding of what chronic illness is and several specific examples of chronic illness, they may be interested to learn more about the effects that chronic illness has on individuals and society. The Chronic Illness portal has several resources that students can use to better understand these effects. For example, the audio broadcast “Karen Hollis Shares Her Experience of Living with Chronic Illness in a Pandemic” explains how one person’s life has been dramatically affected by her cancer diagnosis. This first-person account of life with chronic illness can help students connect the information they have learned about chronic illness to individual experiences, which could help them better understand the topic and develop social and emotional awareness around chronic illness. Teachers can help students deepen their learning by asking them to make connections between the information they hear in the broadcast and experiences from their own lives. Teachers can remind students that chronic illnesses are common in the United States, and they might know people with these diseases or might have the diseases themselves. Making these deeper connections can help students think deeply about the subject and apply their knowledge to their everyday lives.

Teachers may also encourage students to read the Washington Post article “America’s Epidemic of Chronic Illness Is Killing Us Too Soon,” which is also linked in the portal. In this article, students will read data, including the fact that heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death in the United States. The article also compares chronic illness to other causes of death, such as opioid overdoses and gun violence, which cause fewer deaths but receive much more media attention. Teachers might choose to discuss this comparison with students and ask their opinions about it. The article also includes more personal stories, allowing students to again connect the issue of chronic illness with real-life people.

Gale In Context: High School offers teachers and students content-rich resources that help students fully understand important topics that shape their world and affect their lives. With current information and engaging resources, the Chronic Illness portal is one such resource that will encourage students to think deeply and expand their knowledge.

About the Author

Elizabeth Mohn is a writer and an educational content developer. When she’s not reading or writing, Elizabeth is usually spending time with her family, listening to podcasts, or working in her garden.

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