“I wouldn't survive it, as simple as that”: Syndemic vulnerability among people living with chronic non-communicable disease during the COVID-19 pandemic

Wildman, Josephine M., Morris, Stephanie, Pollard, Tessa, Gibson, Kate and Moffatt, Suzanne (2022) “I wouldn't survive it, as simple as that”: Syndemic vulnerability among people living with chronic non-communicable disease during the COVID-19 pandemic. SSM - Qualitative Research in Health, 2. p. 100032. ISSN 2667-3215

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssmqr.2021.100032


The co-occurrence of COVID-19, non-communicable diseases and socioeconomic disadvantage has been identified as creating a syndemic: a state of synergistic epidemics, occurring when co-occurring health conditions interact with social conditions to amplify the burden of disease. In this study, we use the concept of illness management work to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of people living with, often multiple, chronic health conditions in a range of social circumstances. In-depth interviews were conducted between May and July 2020 with 29 participants living in a city in North East England. Qualitative data provide unique insights for those seeking to better understand the consequences for human life and wellbeing of the interacting social, physical and psychological factors that create syndemic risks in people's lives. Among this group of people at increased vulnerability to harm from COVID-19, we find that the pandemic public health response increased the work required for condition management. Mental distress was amplified by fear of infection and by the requirements of social isolation and distancing that removed participants' usual sources of support. Social conditions, such as poor housing, low incomes and the requirement to earn a living, further amplified the work of managing everyday life and risked worsening existing mental ill health. As evidenced by the experiences reported here, the era of pandemics will require a renewed focus on the connection between health and social justice if stubborn, and worsening health and social inequalities are to be addressed or, at the very least, not increased.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Funding information: This study is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research Programme, Community Group and Health Promotion (project reference 16/122/33).
Uncontrolled Keywords: Syndemic, COVID-19, Non-communicable diseases, Illness work, Social determinants of health, Multimorbidity
Subjects: A300 Clinical Medicine
A900 Others in Medicine and Dentistry
L300 Sociology
L500 Social Work
Department: Faculties > Health and Life Sciences > Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing
Depositing User: Rachel Branson
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2022 08:24
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2022 08:30
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/50032

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