Life isn’t easy for those who live with invisible injuries and illnesses. When a person with an invisible impairment needs help or can’t perform certain tasks, they’re often judged for being incapable.
The world is generally more understanding of limitations when an impairment is visible. For example, when a person is wearing a cast on their leg crossing the street, nobody would expect them to walk fast. Drivers might be impatient, but they won’t usually honk at a person in a cast moving slowly. However, when a person has an invisible impairment that makes them slower, the world isn’t as forgiving, especially if that person looks young and capable.
There are countless ways people come to experience invisible impairments. Some people experience trauma as a child with lasting effects, or they develop neurological problems that impair functioning. Others experience injury to the brain. For example, car crashes and slip and fall accidents are two common ways people receive invisible injuries to the brain. Personal injuries like these occur every day in the U.S., and a common outcome is traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Traumatic brain injury is a serious invisible injury
Traumatic brain injuries are invisible and are classified as mild or severe. A TBI is considered mild if the loss of consciousness, confusion, and disorientation lasts less than 30 minutes. A mild TBI usually produces normal MRI and CT scans, but the individual will experience cognitive impairment. For example, they usually experience headaches, temporary memory loss, mood swings, and become easily frustrated. A mild TBI isn’t superficial by any means; it can have devastating consequences on the injured person and their family.
A severe TBI involves loss of consciousness longer than 30 minutes and memory loss that remains for more than 24 hours after the injury. Severe TBIs often result in comas, and survivors experience limited functioning of their arms and legs, speech loss, inability to think clearly, and emotional instability.
Invisible brain injuries are often caused by another’s negligence
Many traumatic brain injuries are caused by another person’s negligence. Although a TBI is a valid reason to file an insurance claim after an accident, a TBI is difficult to prove.
The Jebaily Law Firm points out that insurance companies make TBI cases difficult, even when another person’s negligence is established. The invisible nature of the injury gives insurance companies more reason to question and even deny the claim. Insurance companies are for-profit corporations that always keep their bottom line in mind. They don’t want to pay out more than they have to, and they often deny claims for invisible injuries.
Proving an invisible injury on your own isn’t easy. That’s why most people who suffer a TBI file personal injury lawsuits instead of pursuing claims through insurance. A lawyer will prove a TBI by using medical records, neuropsychological test results, images, expert opinion, and testimonies from friends and family.
Still, even if a person has managed to recover adequate compensation for an invisible brain injury, people they interact within the world don’t know.
People with invisible injuries struggle in public spaces and at work
When you don’t know a person’s history, it’s easy to assume someone who looks capable is just lazy. For instance, an employee might seem incredibly sharp but lack the executive functioning skills required to be a shift leader. If the manager promotes them but doesn’t know they’re cognitively impaired, they might see them as a disappointment when they can’t perform.
Experiencing a TBI can impair executive functions like planning and execution, multi-tasking, flexible thinking, and making decisions. A person with these impairments won’t be able to perform these tasks at a high level.
Suspend judgment and ask questions
Visible and invisible impairments are equally valid and challenging to live with. If you see someone struggling with basic tasks and you’re not sure why to ask if they need help before forming judgments. Don’t ask about their specific disability; ask if there’s anything you can do to support them. They’re probably used to people perceiving them as incapable, and they might be afraid to ask for help. Let them know you see them struggling and you want to know how you can help. Give them the opportunity to let you know what they need, and then act on it.