Invisible Illnesses & How Many Women are Affected

Invisible health disorders affecting working women can make life in the workplace much harder than it has to be. Many women already feel as if they have to work much harder than their male coworkers in order to prove themselves. Many times, even with identical, or even higher credentials, women face challenges such as lesser pay, fewer leadership opportunities, and fewer job offers for positions which they are fully qualified for. Invisible health disorders add to the struggle that many women face each day in the workplace by creating painful working conditions that make them appear disinterested or even inadequate.

What Conditions Affect Women?

Many women are affected by an invisible illness called PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. This is a hormone disorder that affects women as young as age 11. Symptoms can include the absence of periods, excessive facial hair, abdominal pain, excessive weight gain, and inability to have children. Women may be suffering from this illness in silence, with no one knowing why she is feeling the way she is. The symptoms, such as the weight gain and excessive facial hair, may cause women to feel self-conscious, especially in the workplace. It can also cause women to miss many days of work with no explanation.

So What Do Women Do?

Many women don't acknowledge their issues for fear of being judged or treated differently. This actually makes the problem worse, as not being able to properly deal with their issues, or being fearful of losing their job for taking time off for dealing with the issues, causes undue stress and anxiety.

Why Are Women Scared To Speak Up?

With invisible illnesses, such as the condition mentioned above, many women are scared that they will receive unfair treatment in the workplace. Another invisible issue is premenstrual dysmorphic disorder, which is a deep state of depression that occurs before a woman's menstrual period. More severe than premenstrual syndrome, it may cause a woman to have to take a few days off from work occasionally, putting her in fear of losing her job.

Women may also think that she can't tell her co-workers, or her boss, about her condition. She may think that people will accuse her of faking an invisible illness, or think she is exaggerating or overreacting. All of these feelings can make the woman feel overwhelmed.

What Are Some Other Invisible Illnesses?

Women may suffer from postpartum depression. After they've returned from a maternity leave, a woman may still be severely depressed. She may be crying frequently, even in the workplace. This can negatively affect her job performance, and it may cause her to be judged by coworkers who don't have an understanding of the situation.

What Should Working Women Do?

If a working woman is suffering from an invisible illness, the best thing to do is talk to someone about the situation. This could be her boss, or perhaps someone from the human resources department. By speaking up about the problem, her coworkers will become aware of the situation, and she won't feel as if she is receiving unfair treatment.

Another option is for women to discuss with their boss that they may need some time off for a medical condition. The woman doesn't have to mention what the condition is if it makes her feel uncomfortable. A doctor's note will suffice as sufficient evidence of the need for time off.


Invisible illnesses affect many women. They shouldn't have to be fearful about being treated differently in the workplace due to these issues. There are steps that a woman can take to ensure that she is treated fairly, even with an illness.