The notion of the "sick role" (Parsons, 1951), where affected individuals are exempt from certain normative expectations and responsibilities (e.g. work) in line with societal judgements, rests heavily on the 'legitimation' of illness, principally through a formal diagnosis. Whilst extensively critiqued in later work (Frank, 2016; Vassiley, et al, 2017), and particularly in relation to chronic illness (Segall, 1976; Radley, 1994), it can be argued that critical aspects of the theory are still useful in understanding illness experiences today (Williams, 2005; Varul, 2010; Hallowell et al., 2015). Here, the sick role theory is applied to the context of long COVID, offering an understanding around the problem of the lack of legitimation of this condition amongst the medical profession. This is based on the findings of a longitudinal, qualitative study looking at the impact of long COVID on 50 NHS workers across Scotland. Presenting with a constellation of common and often debilitating symptoms, the impacts of long COVID are wide-ranging, very often necessitating suspension of normal social responsibilities, including paid work. Yet, as a relatively new condition with few visible symptoms, a lack of evidence base, and poor understanding around the condition, long COVID is generally not legitimised in the same way as other chronic conditions. Many individuals report a sense of not being 'believed', having their needs unrecognised, misdiagnosed, barriers in accessing healthcare, a lack of support at work, emotional burdens and a need for validation of their symptoms and experiences.

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MacIver, E., Adams, N., Kennedy, C., Douglas, F., Hernandez Santiago, V., Torrance, N. & Grant, A. 2022, 'Living with long COVID: the problem of lack of legitimation.', 2022 Annual conference of the British Sociological Association Medical Sociology Study Group (BSA MedSoc 2022), Lancaster, 14-16 September 2022. https://rgu-repository.worktribe.com/output/1764390

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Last updated: 17 November 2022
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