Showing Support for Chronic Illness

According to the CDC, six in ten adults in the U.S. have a chronic illness. Chronic illnesses are conditions that require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living. Examples may include cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and lupus. A chronic diagnosis may create fear and uncertainty, as chronic illnesses are not curable. A person who lives with chronic illness faces many challenges on an emotional, physical, and mental level. They may experience a racing mind about the long-term outlook of their health. A racing mind may be wondering when their next flare-up will be, if their medication is safe to take long-term, and if there will ever be a cure.

People living with chronic illness often do not feel safe in their own body, and social support can help foster wellness. Those facing this hardship want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Here are 15 ways to support your loved ones:

  1. Be careful about attempting to problem-solve. Although well-intentioned, asking them if they have tried eating a healthier diet or sleeping more can be dismissive.
  • Remember that it is acceptable for them to feel confused, anxious, or angry. “Just be positive” may sound supportive, but it implies it is not okay to feel negative emotions surrounding their experience.
  • Research their illness while understanding you are not the expert. Putting in your own work means everything to them. Feel free to ask questions.
  • Show grace and understanding to them. Your loved one may not have the same energy you have, and perhaps socializing looks a little different when you spend time together.
  • Respect the boundaries they may place around their time or energy. They are not selfish for doing what they need to do to feel baseline “normal” for themselves.
  • Validate their feelings on their illness and provide a safe space for them to share. They may often doubt the validity of their own illness and experience.
  • Avoid making assumptions such as “You are too young for that.”
  • Challenge the biases you might hold about what it means to be healthy or what it means to be sick. Chronically ill people are not lazy or weak.
  • Stay away from constant affirmations such as “You are so resilient!” Humans are meant to soften without needing to constantly fight their own bodies.
  1. Consider donating toward their illness (there are many foundations and support groups) if this makes financial sense for you.
  1. Offer to accompany them to a doctor visit or procedure. These visits can feel draining, scary, and cumbersome.
  1. Think about how you felt especially when the COVID-19 pandemic first began. The uncertainty you felt/feel may be a feeling they encounter every day.
  1. Believe them, as they are the expert of their body and their own lived experiences. Even if the illness is not visible, it does not mean they are not suffering.
  1. Offer to make them a meal or run an errand for them. Taking something off their plate is helpful.
  1. Remember that every person’s body is different. Just because your coworker has the same illness as your cousin, it does not mean their experiences will be identical.

While these 15 tips are meant to be a guide, when in doubt, ask your loved one how they want to be supported. This question already shows how much you care.

Disclaimer: Social support is valuable, but it does not erase the need for proper access to medical care and does not solve the disparities in the healthcare systems– especially for People of Color and the LGBTQ+ community.

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). National Center for chronic disease

        prevention and health promotion.   https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.html   

If you would like to speak to a professional counselor about topics, such as the one featured in this blog, and are in the Chicago area, please contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000. We are located at 6819 West 167th Street in Tinley Park, Illinois 60477.

Written by Liz, Mental Health Counseling Master’s Level Intern

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