Minister Ged Nash: I was bullied by schoolmates after Crohn's diagnosis
A SENIOR politician has spoken openly for the first time about how he was bullied as a child because he is a sufferer of Crohn's disease.
Minister for Business and Employment Ged Nash told the Herald how his life-altering disease led to regular hospitalisation and bullying from classmates.
"Growing up, it was severely challenging, especially in those early years of 14 to 18 years of age," he said.
"I had problems when I first entered employment and I was regularly hospitalised, but thankfully my school was very understanding of my condition.
"I was a very healthy, confident and, dare I say, athletic and sporty guy before I was diagnosed, and then my life changed overnight.
"I was bullied because some people didn't understand or misinterpreted my illness, and some of the symptoms of course are difficult to talk about and that made it worse.
"I think this is why we need to have a public discussion out in the open about what having Crohn's involves and how we ought to address it."
Mr Nash was a guest speaker at the launch of a report outlining the full extent of the disease on Irish society.
Gut Decisions, an organisation representing people with Crohn's and colitis, found that an estimated 20,000 people are living with the diseases.
Of those surveyed, it was revealed that almost half indicated that they had lost or had to leave their job because of their illness.
Both inflammatory diseases can cause diarrhoea, severe abdominal pain and cramping, nausea and vomiting, reduced appetite and weight loss.
While no Ireland-specific economic impact data is avail-able, European comparisons suggest that Crohn's disease alone could cost the health service €15,521 a year per patient, making the total annual cost for the treatment almost €185m.
Another sufferer, John Roche (41), from Swords, said that he would not allow his condition prevent him from going to work.
Mr Roche, who is vice-president of WBT Systems, was diagnosed with Crohn's and colitis late in life, at the age of 39. He had to be hospitalised several times and was forced to seriously reconsider his ability to work.
"I thought if I lose this job it would be a lot more stressful, but luckily I have supportive people around me," he said.
Often starting in early childhood, both diseases are life-long conditions for which there is no cure.
People living with the conditions are often also at risk of developing colorectal cancer and dying prematurely.
The colitis rate in Ireland is one of the highest in the world.
As a result of the findings of the report, the IBD Quality Initiative Steering Group is making several recommendations to the Government on how to handle the growing crisis.
It calls for the implementation of a national strategy for Crohn's and colitis, to deliver the highest standards of care for sufferers.
It also asks that every patient with Crohn's has ready access to the care of a multi-disciplinary team to allow timely referral, diagnosis and treatment.
The report was compiled with the support of biopharmaceutical company AbbVie, and used two independent surveys.