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10 Ways to Help a Loved One with Chronic Illness

Reading time | 4 mins

It can be hard to know what to do to when a friend is in need. Often, people feel very helpless when someone else is going through a hard time. How can you show you’re there for them and that you care?

I live with several chronic conditions myself, and even I’m not always sure how to approach the situation. However, I’ve come up with a few ideas over the years to support my friends when they aren’t feeling 100%. These are also things I know I’d appreciate when I’m in the same boat.  

Just be there

Sometimes people are comforted by the mere presence of another person. They might not want to converse, but could still draw comfort from you being nearby. If this is the case, why not set up a workspace in their home, so that they know you’re around if they need you without them having to entertain you?

If you can’t be there in person, sometimes being at the end of the phone or sending a message or a ‘like’ on social media will show you are thinking about them and offering support.

Send a message – in an actual card

If you live far away, then sending a card can be such a wonderful idea. The tangible evidence of a card can mean a lot in an online world while giving the recipient something physical to hold on to. I mean, who doesn’t love receiving something personal in their post box?

Help around the home

If you can give up an hour or two to help a friend around the home, it can mean a lot. I know when I am feeling bad, the last thing I want to do is housework. Having someone pop in to spruce things up a bit or even just pop in a load of washing can be wonderful.

It will also give them less to worry about and more space to try and relax. A chaotic living space is not conducive to healing and a clean and tidy environment can soothe an agitated mind.

Don’t underestimate the power of a home-cooked meal

If you are cooking or baking something delicious, why not make enough for one more person?

So often when I’m feeling awful, I just end up ordering in which usually is not very healthy at all.

Dropping off a couple of homemade meals at a friend’s house is a great way of showing you care. And your loved one will be thankful to have something nourishing that they can just heat and eat.  

Make up a care package

If you want to show you care through gifting, you can always go the care package route. There are companies out there who specialise in making up boxes. You can also use your own creativity and knowledge of your loved one and make up a box specifically tailored to them.  

You could even take this a step further and make them a box filled with happy memories which they can use over and over.  Fill this up with photos of happy times, mementoes of time spent together and messages from loved ones.

Get them out of the house

Sometimes even the cosiest of homes can feel oppressive, and getting out can do wonders for a person. Take your friend on an outing – go for a walk, visit a local attraction, go to the cinema or have a meal out. It can help uplift the spirit and create a happy memory.

Really listen to them

It really helps me when I feel like I’m being listened to. Knowing someone hears you and accepts you can help you realise you are not alone.

Listen to your friend. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it may help them express their thoughts, and demonstrate that you are interested in what they have to say. You probably aren’t going to have the answers and that’s OK. In fact, this is not the time to give advice, letting them speak their mind is enough. 

Educate yourself

There’s a lot of information available both off and online. Get information leaflets from your doctor, visit reputable health websites and patient organisations and join condition-specific support forums to learn more about your loved one’s condition.

Getting to understand the symptoms, causes, and treatment can help you better understand what they are going through, and will make you a better ally.  

Encourage them to get the right help  

Often people who live with mental health issues have trouble asking for help. Try to help them take that step towards professional help. Offer to accompany them to their first appointment and remind them that asking for help is a good thing.

Remember to look after yourself too

Self-care is very important when you’re looking after someone else. So often loved ones of people with chronic conditions get so caught up in taking care of the identified patient that they end up neglecting their own physical and mental health.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and to say no. Your wellbeing is important too, and you can’t look after anyone if you’re burnt out.

UK/MED/19/0330 December 2019