how to help look after a freind will illness

How to help a friend with illness

A friend’s illness can be a difficult and unsettling time. You may feel helpless, and unsure of how best to offer support. You’re probably worried about saying the wrong thing or intruding in their privacy.

But, your presence and care can be an important source of strength during a challenging period. Here are some tips on how you can offer support to your friend going through an illness:

Understanding the Diagnosis:

It’s natural to want to understand the specifics of your friend’s illness. Some people really want to talk about their illness diagnosis, others become very private. While knowledge is helpful, it’s crucial to respect their boundaries. If they’re comfortable sharing details, listen attentively without judgment. Show empathy, but try not to start comparing with your own experiences or those of other people you know. Instead, just listen, and gently express your willingness to learn more when they’re ready. Most importantly, avoid bombarding them with medical advice or unsolicited information tat you may have googled in an attempt to help. Just be there at this early stage.

Offering Support:

Beyond listening, there are various ways to show support:

Be a listening ear: This is perhaps the most important thing you can offer. Create a safe space for your friend to express their fears, frustrations, and anxieties without feeling judged. Just being present and acknowledging their emotions allows them to vent and feel supported. At some point, they may need professional counselling, and in some ways, you are helping them to start on a therapy journey.

Offer practical help: Consider their specific needs and offer assistance with everyday tasks. This could be errands like grocery shopping, picking up medication, or taking care of their pet. Offer to cook meals, help with cleaning, or run errands or look after their kids . Do not assume that they will ask. Some people find it very hard to ask for help. I know I used to one of them!

Be a distraction: Sometimes, a break from their worries can provide much-needed relief. Offer to watch a movie together, play games, or simply go for a walk. Above all, try to bring some normality to their life, they will be craving normality.

Keep them company during appointments: Accompanying them to doctor visits or treatment sessions can be incredibly helpful. This shows your care and can make the experience less daunting.
Connect them with resources: Research support groups, online forums, or local organisations that can provide additional guidance and resources specific to their illness.

helping a friend through illness


What to Say and What Not to Say:

This can be super tricky, as often we are so fearful of saying the wrong thing. I often wonder if this is why so many people avoid meeting up with people when they have had a difficult diagnosis or someone has passed away. In my experience, most people will forgive you for saying a few clumsy words, but avoidance might be a bit harder to get over.

Express your love, support, and belief in their strength. Phrases like “You’re so strong,” “I’m here for you no matter what,” or “I believe in you” can be incredibly comforting.
Acknowledge their feelings, validate their emotions and let them know it’s okay to feel scared, angry, or frustrated. Say things like “It’s okay to not feel okay,” “This is a lot to handle,” or “I can imagine how difficult this must be.”

Avoid cliché phrases like “Everything happens for a reason” or “It could be worse” can feel insensitive and dismissive. It will probably actually make them feel isolated and almost ‘Chosen’ to have this illness. Instead, focus on the future positivity, while acknowledging the present struggles, offer words of hope and optimism. You can say, “We’ll get through this together,” or “There are so many wonderful things still ahead of you.” Maybe help them plan some nice things to do together to lift their spirits

Prayer can be a really supportive expression of your love, even if they are not religious. I’ve sometimes asked people ‘Is it ok if I pray for you and your situation’ and am usually met with positivity. Even if they don’t agree with your beliefs, just to know they are in your thoughts and prayers is really supportive.

Understanding Their Feelings:

People react differently to illness. Here are some potential emotions your friend might experience:

Fear and anxiety: They may be worried about the future, treatment options, and the potential impact on their life.
Anger and resentment: They may feel frustrated with their situation and angry at the unfairness of it all.
Sadness and grief: They may grieve the loss of their health, independence, or the life they envisioned.
Isolation and loneliness: Feeling ill can lead to social withdrawal. It’s important to maintain a connection during this time.

helping a friend through illness


Respecting Their Wishes:

Every person wants to be treated differently during illness. You only need to have a look at Social media to see how different we all are. Some people really love to document their thoughts, feelings, treatments, appointments,and emotional rollercoaster. Others (like me) probably don’t want it to take over and so keep things quite private. It’s so important to consider their choices and respect their boundaries:

Ask how you can best help, don’t make assumptions. Openly ask them what type of support they need and how much they want to talk about their illness.
Respect their space, allow them to take time alone to process their emotions or rest. Don’t be offended if they decline invitations or seem withdrawn.
Follow their lead, some people want to talk about their illness openly, while others prefer to keep it private. Respect their preference.
Remember, small acts of kindness can have a significant impact. A surprise delivery of a thoughtful care package, a funny book or a box of their favourite snacks, a handwritten card expressing your support, or a simple phone call to check in can mean the world to your friend. Focus on offering love, support, and a listening ear. During this difficult time, your presence can be the most powerful gift of all.

If you feel overwhelmed and unsure how to navigate supporting your friend, consider seeking additional resources yourself. Talking to a counsellor or therapist can provide helpful strategies for coping with a friend’s illness and offer guidance on communication techniques. Self care is so important for you as the person supporting your friend or family member. Try to remember the phrase ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’ and look after yourself too. Sharing the support will really help with this, so maybe join with a few friends and share the load.

We really hope this Blog post helps you through this difficult time.

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