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April Meyers, Guest Author

Your Loved One Has a Chronic Illness – How Can You Help?

When a loved one or family member is diagnosed with a chronic health condition, this is a life-altering experience for them, sometimes an extremely difficult one. They will need those close to them to offer as much support and empathy as possible. But not everyone is aware of how best to support a loved one dealing with a new diagnosis or living with chronic illness. This can leave your loved one feeling isolated or misunderstood. Here are some dos and don’ts when you’re trying to support a loved one with a chronic diagnosis.

Things not to say.

Sometimes even well-intended attempts can leave the wrong impression. Other times, people are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, so they do nothing at all. There are many ways to give people meaningful comfort, depending on their personality and their situation. But there are also some notes you really want to avoid striking when you offer solace to a person with a chronic condition. Avoid being overly positive, to the extent of dismissing their suffering. Saying things like “it’s not so bad,” doesn’t convey comfort – it conveys indifference. Telling them to look on the bright side comes off as similarly dismissive. And avoid giving unsolicited medical advice, especially about supposed “miracle cures” and especially if you’re not a medical professional.

How you can convey empathy.

It’s okay to admit that you don’t know what to say. It’s also okay to admit that you don’t fully understand what they’re going through. It’s important to stress your willingness to be there for them and with them, despite your not understanding. But also, show that you’re interested in listening and in learning more – if they want to share. If not, don’t pressure them. Ask them what they want and need, and what can best help them.

Give solid material support.

When a person is struggling with a chronic condition, whether it affects their physical health, mental functions, or both, offering encouragement and empathy is important – but not always enough. Often, they need concrete material assistance. This could mean helping them tend to their housework or assisting them with getting the meals they need – especially if they are on a special diet. Some chronic conditions make it unsafe to drive, so a person dealing with that condition might need help getting around – especially if they need to get to health-related appointments.

Help them out financially if needed.

Often, too, a chronic condition can mean increased expenses and decreased income, so your loved one may need financial support. Find out whether they qualify for any financial assistance and help them apply for it. If they need to switch jobs, you can help them seek work that they can do even with their chronic condition. You may also want to organize a fundraiser to help them if you’re not in a situation to offer direct financial support yourself. Keep in mind that a person with a chronic illness may not be comfortable asking for help financially, so it’s a good idea to offer it yourself, and make it clear that helping them would make you happy, and not be a burden.

Do your best to learn more about their condition.

You can give better support to your loved one if you educate yourself about the realities of their condition. You may even feel inclined to pursue education in a healthcare field, to help them and others in their situation. Even if you are involved as a caregiver for your loved one, or if you are busy with work and family, you can still pursue a nursing degree online – just make sure you choose a reputable and accredited program.

Supporting your loved one is not something you should be trying to do alone. It’s important for your whole family to come together to help them get through this, especially as the implications of chronic illness affect all of you. If you are helping a loved one with a mental illness or a brain disorder, you can get further information and support from Grow a Strong Family.