How to Support Someone with a Chronic Illness

When someone you know - be it a loved one, family member, friend, colleague or neighbour- is living with a chronic illness, it might be challenging to know how to support them and do it well and consciously.

Here are some basic suggestions to keep in mind if you're unsure of where to start or need ideas for what else you can do. Remember, everyone processes and deals with chronic health issues in a different way and just because so

mething was helpful to one person, doesn't mean it is necessarily the case for someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness, including a thyroid diagnosis, and want to share this article with someone, please do and I'd love to hear any other suggestions you might have as well.

Ask how you can support the person.

Sometimes the best practice is to just ask. Many people feel uncomfortable and don't want to say the wrong thing to someone with a chronic illness and so they end up saying nothing which ultimately strain a relationship.

Offer examples of how you might be able to support.

For example, "I could ma

ke a couple of meals for you next week based on any dietary restrictions you have at the moment" or "I would love to support you for instance with vacuuming/dusting or doing groceries."

Don't make assumptions about what is best for their health.

How a person approaches their illness and their treatment plan is a personal decision. Being patronizing about the choices they have made is not a great way to support someone. A real example from someone right after I had my thyroidectomy surgery "Nadha, did you ever consider any alternative treatment?" (Um, yes I did but your tone sounds a little judgy and I don't think I want to answer your question). If you feel you have some value to offer, then it might be worth humbly offering to hold space if the person wants to discuss other options. Also, don't inform people of why they now have this health issue "this is happening because you've been too stressed/eating badly/not exercising enough".

Avoid patronizing, guilt-tripping or minimizing their illness, diagnosis or symptoms.

Some examples of phrases (these are all real by the way):

"You just need a good night's rest"

"You'll be fine. Thyroid cancer has a great prognosis"

"You never do anything anymore"

"You're on medication now so you must be alright"

"You're too young to be sick"

"I'm tired too" (especially to someone dealing with hypothyroidism or chronic fatigue)

"You should pray more"

"I wish I could sick days off like you"

"You should boost your immunity" (I'll get right on that!)

Recognize that this is a long-term issue and think about what that means moving forward.

A chronic illness has a different trajectory than an acute health issue. Unfortunately, I too have had the experience of support being high initially after my thyroid cancer diagnosis and during treatment (I am grateful for this) but then dropping off over time. Everyone has multiple demands that we are juggling, but living with a chronic illness is long-term health concern so that's something to consider.

Don't stop inviting them to events and to meet-ups, and understand if they can't make it (or need to leave early).

Most people living with a chronic illness still want to meet-up and participate in events, but sometimes it's just not possible depending on how they're feeling on the day. It is worth asking how you can accommodate or figuring out how you can still meet-up and socialize. What is the best way to communicate? What are the best days and times to meet? What accommodations would support you?

Celebrate all milestones and victories.

There are no insignificant milestones and it's encouraging to take a moment to recognize these.

Connect with other caregivers or look into resources and ideas for supporting people with chronic illnesses.

How to Support Someone With a Chronic Illness

Depending on how prominent this relationship is in your life, it is also important to recognize any feelings like resentment or frustration that you may be feeling. Someone living with chronic illness may have needs from time to time that need to be prioritized and this shifts typical understandings of what a particular relationship might look like. So make sure you are also getting the support you might need.

If you found this article helpful, please take a moment to share it in any way using the buttons below! Together, we can raise awareness of what it’s like to live with a chronic illness and explore what it means to reclaim our minds, bodies and lives.

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Nadha Hassen

Founder at Thyroid Transitions
Nadha is a health researcher and chronic illness advocate based in Toronto. A "thyroidless thriver", she strives to support people at all stages of their thyroid process. She is currently a PhD student and received her Master of Public Health (MPH) from the University of Toronto, specializing in Health Promotion.
Posted in Caregivers & Loved Ones.

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