If you have a family member, friend, coworker, or acquaintance that has a chronic illness you may wonder how you can help them.
If this is the case, I want to start by giving a whole hearted thank you! Many do not feel the need to offer help or support to the chronically ill. So the desire alone is a great start!
Assistance can come in many forms. Whether a person has a mental or physical illnesses they are likely to need both moral support and practical help.
But it is very important to note, there are right and wrong ways to be helpful.
The most helpful thing you can do for an ill friend is to listen to them!
Some may feel they know what is best for their ill friend. But most likely they do not. No one knows what is going on in our bodies better than we do.
You may have an idea of what is needed, based on personal experience or on research you have done. But you can not know how a situation effects another individual.
If you feel your loved one is doing something they shouldn't, making a suggestion is fine. But leave it at that. Allow them to then decide what to do and do not make them feel guilty if they choose not to follow your advice.
Do not attempt to make decisions for your ill friend.* Do not put pressure on them to do what you think is right.
Remember, you may not have all of the facts. You may not understand how a certain decision could effect other aspects of the persons illness.
Let's give a hypothetical, let's say your firend is standing up and is clearly in pain. You suggest they go sit down. They choose not to.
This may seem puzzling to you. To you it is a simple solution, you can see no reason they wouldn't do what you said.
But possibly your friend also has a mental illness. Maybe going to sit down would bring attention to them and they are unable to handle that at that moment.
Maybe the only available seat is next to someone that makes them uncomfortable and would increase their feelings of discomfort, or even cause an anxiety attack.
There could be many reasons a person may choose to not follow your well meaning advice.
However, if you choose to put pressure on the person, if you choose to get others involved in persuading them to do what you think best, you could actually cause a lot of emotional pain.
You may feel you are looking out for their best interest. You may feel you are being helpful. But are you really?
Is it helpful to push someone to do something against their wishes? Is it helpful to draw attention to them, if that is not what they want?
The answer is no. It is not helpful.
Those of us living with chronic illnesses appreciate when others want to assist us. But we do not need others to take over.
Some Quick Tips
Do not assume you know what is best for us.
Do not try to take over for us.*
Do not talk about us to others as if we are not there, as if we are an inanimate object.
Do not take it personally if we do not follow your suggestions.
Do ask what would be helpful.
Do listen to what we say.
Do offer assistance and then wait for us to tell you yes or no
Do respect our decision.
The only time it is okay to make decisions for us is if we are unconscious or if we tell you we need you to take over.* Even in those situations, please consider what we would want and be most comfortable with.
It is vital to remember that individuals that are disabled, chronically ill, or mentally ill are still people that deserve your honor and they deserve for you to respect their wishes.*
It can not be stressed enough, the best way to help an ill friend is simply to listen to them.
*Note this does not include situations where an individual is trying to harm themselves or someone else. Those are extreme cases and require professional assistance.