Illness is challenging, and so is knowing how to support people with illness.
If you haven’t experienced this before, it’s so hard to know what to do.
Different illnesses can have different needs – the support needed for a broken leg and for heart disease can be very different.
– Acute illness: a short-term illness, not life-threatening.
– Chronic illness: an illness or diseases which is persistent or long-lasting in it’s effects.
– Serious or life-limiting illness: an illness which threatens life or where death is expected to arise as a consequence of the illness. Serious illness and life-limiting illness aren’t the same of course, but for the purposes of this article, I’m addressing them together because they can require similar support.
– Mental illness: mental illness can be acute, chronic, or serious.
– Trauma and grief: trauma or grief can arise from many causes, including a traumatic event, the death of a loved one or after a diagnosis of illness or accident.
In addition to practical needs like treatment, pain management and caregiving we can think about supporting people with:
Boredom and frustration can be big challenges for people with acute illness. Generally, the pain isn’t long enough lived for the person to have to get used to living with it and it can be in the forefront of consciousness constantly.
– Practical help to do the things they are struggling with, like shopping or showering if they have a broken limb.
– Distraction from their pain or boredom.
– Comfort, because being ill can be ghastly and comfort often helps when you are hurting.
Disempowerment, the wearing nature of long-term pain/fatigue/symptoms, lack of understanding and feeling left out are natural and common responses to chronic illness.
Loneliness often arises when people get used to the person being ill and their support wanes, but the ill person is still living and struggling with chronic illness.
– Offering acknowledgement and care. Even if they’ve had the condition for a long time, they still have to deal with it day to day.
– Listening and not trying to fix them.
– Acceptance, of how they are, how they feel that day…
– Practical help – such as an eye mask, audio book or podcast, or perhaps a DVD.
– Inclusion and understanding.
Serious or Life-limiting Illness
Serious illness and life-limiting illness aren’t the same of course, but for the purposes of this article, I’m addressing them together because they can require similar support.
Struggles with these illnesses can include fear, being treated differently, and illness etiquette tangles.
– Don’t assume. Ask what they want/need.
– Speak to the person, not their carer.
– Some people want to answer your questions on their condition, some would rather you went away and did your own research and not have them have to explain it to you. Feel your way into this, take your cues from them, or ask.
– Be aware of difficult comments, and how to manage them.
– Send regular letters or texts, even when the person can’t reply, and cards as they can be looked at and enjoyed. Check out ‘What Can I Say?’ Writing a Card to Someone with Illness or Grief.
Saying “I can (for example) bring food, pick you up from the hospital, collect prescriptions (and set you up with repeat prescription schemes and apps to track them), ring you to chat weekly, read to you, walk the dog, get you books from the library, do research on illness management, deal with enquiries or anything else you would like.” rather than simply “Let me know if you need anything.”
This way they don’t have to think of what they need – which can be so hard when you are used to being able to do things yourself and suddenly can’t. You don’t have a list of what you need help with because all these tasks used to be second nature and you are still learning what you can and can’t do right now.
Saying this can make it easier for them as then they can tell if you mean the offer or are just trying to express support without being able to practically follow up.
“When we ask ourselves which [people] in our lives mean the most to us, we often find… it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen
Help us ease suffering and spread the word about Healing Boxes.
Please take this opportunity to support someone in your life with illness – make a phone call, give a hug, send them a Healing Box, or treat yourself to one. That surprise of love and kindness delivered to their doorstep can make all the difference in making a hard day bearable.
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