How To Support Someone With A Chronic Illness

As someone with a chronic illness, it's often hard for people to understand just how you feel. Since I wear a mask everyday now, I often get asked if I have the flu or if I'm contagious. Most people don't understand chronic illnesses unless they've experienced them firsthand.

If someone is suffering from a chronic illness, it means that they are constantly sick. Even if they don’t seem like it, even if they are not always in pain or feeling unwell, their condition is ever-present, and this in itself can make them feel down and even depressed. Support is essential for their overall wellbeing; feeling happy and thinking positive thoughts can reduce pain and symptoms as well as make the illness less arduous to deal with.

If you are a carer, friend, or relative of someone who has a chronic illness such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis, or the aftermath of a stroke, amongst many other conditions, here are some of the best ways you can support them.


It is easy to fall out of touch with people, and for those suffering from a chronic illness, it can be even easier – if they are unable or unwilling to go out, they may not see their friends much at all. This can have a detrimental effect on their mental health, which in turn will affect their physical health, potentially making them sicker than they were before.

Simply by calling, texting, sending a quick email, or even connecting through social media and asking if they are okay, talking about your day, giving them news and information, or just to make sure they are all right and to let them know you are thinking about them can be enough to help. Do this regularly, and you will both benefit from it.


You might reach out to someone who you know is dealing with a chronic illness as mentioned above, and that’s wonderful – it can make a difference. What will help even more and what you can do at the same time, is to listen to them. They may not have anywhere they can go to get advice, and they may not have anyone who they can talk to, worry with, or even rant to. Let them talk and let the worries and frustration come out. It will be better for them than holding everything back in.

Don’t assume you know what will be best for them; this is something only they can work out for themselves. Listen to what they say, and then you can act on it. If they want to find a support group, you can help with this. If they are interested in investigating how a different medication could help and they want your advice about serrapeptase and diabetes, talk it through. If they just want to tell you how unwell they feel and how they are in pain and what problems it is causing them, let them. They need all of this, and you can help them achieve it.

Be Flexible

Sometimes someone with a chronic illness will feel well enough to join in with the plans you have made. Sometimes they won’t. Often, they won’t know until the day itself how their condition is going to affect them. This is where flexibility on your part will truly help and will be another means of support for someone with a chronic illness.

Make sure that when you make plans that they include this person, and that the plans can be changed or postponed if needed. This will ensure that the sufferer doesn’t feel guilty for ‘ruining’ what you had intended to do together that day, and you can both do something that you can all manage instead. For example, you might have decided that a trip to the beach was a good idea, but when you go to pick up your friend, they can’t face the outside world. In that case, binge on a Netflix boxset and order pizza instead. Accepting that things change and that you might not be able to do the things you used to do together without recrimination or pity might be hard, but it is important.

Flexibility can make a big difference to a good relationship with someone who has a chronic illness, and it’s a useful life skill to learn for other situations too.

Do Your Research

When a loved one or friend is diagnosed with a chronic illness, it can be a scary time. They may feel very alone, and you may feel unequipped to help them, and perhaps be just as lost and confused as they are.

In this case, it is vital that you research the illness so that you can be as supportive as possible. The more you know, the more you can help, and that will make the sufferer feel loved and looked after.

Start by looking online to find out about the disease but remember that the internet can be full of information that isn’t quite right. You will get the beginnings of an understanding, however, and that is a good start. After that it can be useful to join forums and groups, attend meetings, or speak to a medical professional to get more information. They will be happy to help you, and then you will know how to help your loved one or friend a lot better.

Be Encouraging

The last thing that someone suffering from chronic disease will need is people pitying them. In most cases, the disease is a quirk of fate, and something that has no reason behind it (although this is not always the case, of course), and therefore isn’t something that can be pitied – it is something that simply needs to be dealt with. If you pity your friend and let them know that you feel sorry for them this is only going to make both them and you feel worse. 

This is especially true if the person is dealing with the effects of a work-place accident. They might have basic questions, such as what to say to the work comp doctor. In these circumstances, pity won’t necessarily help them. 

Instead of pity, show encouragement. They may not be able to walk as far as they once did, but rather than feeling sorry that they can’t go as far, be pleased for whatever steps they were able to take. Always look at the positive side of every situation, and you will find that this encouraging outlook will make everyone much happier.