What People with Chronic Illness Wish You Knew


Most of us know someone with a chronic illness, but many people do not know how to support someone who has one. Assumptions and misconceptions about chronic conditions can create communication patterns that weaken relationships. Supporting your friend or family member will require strong communication along every step of the journey.

It is important to note that not all chronic conditions make someone look “sick.” Your friend or family member may look perfectly healthy. He or she may not feel bad every day, or may have physical and emotional issues that are not consistent. The fact the person does not look “sick” does not mean the condition does not exist. The fact you can’t see the condition or its effects does not mean it is imaginary. 

Here are my tips for supporting a friend or family member who has a chronic illness: 

Ask how you can best support your friend of family member

The simplest way to find out what sort of support your friend or family member needs is to ask, “How can I best support you today?” Note that the support he or she needs can vary from day to day, so stay on track by asking more than once a month. There may be days when your friend does not want to discuss the issue or acknowledge it exists. Respect that. Depending on the chronic condition being dealt with, your friend or family member may simply need encouragement and emotional support, or may need assistance with physical tasks. Find out specific ways you can provide support.

Note that some people with chronic illness want you to treat them as if they do not have a chronic illness. The best way to support and encourage your friend or family member may be to treat him or her the same way you treat everyone else. 

Learn about the chronic condition

Take time to learn about the condition your friend or family member is battling. Do some preliminary research, but discuss what you learned with the person you are trying to support. The information you found online may not paint a clear picture of the specific condition your friend is working to control and alleviate. Ask him or her to explain the condition to you. You may want to ask about how the condition affects him or her, how it impacts daily life, what the treatment options are, what testing was used to make the diagnosis, etc. 

Drop the pity

Your friend or family member needs your support, NOT your pity. Trust me that your friend or family member has grown to hate the pitying looks that come when someone learns of the health condition. Pity is offered in kindness, but it is not an empowering emotion. Pity dismisses the abilities and strengths of the person receiving it. Your friend or family member is still capable of providing value. Do not diminish that potential by offering pity instead of support.

Don’t make assumptions

Never assume anything. Most importantly, do not make assumptions about how the person feels emotionally. Do not assume you “know how the person feels.” You do not. Even if you have the same condition, you do not know how your friend or family member feels. Please never assume you do. It is also important to not assume your friend is not physically capable of performing tasks or attending social events. Always invite your friend to events and get-togethers. Never assume he or she won’t feel well enough to attend.

Gently intervene when necessary

Depression is a potential side effect of any chronic condition. If you believe your friend or family member is sinking into a depression, please encourage him or her to contact a health professional and to seek assistance.


Do you have a chronic condition? Please share how you want your friends and family members to support you. Let’s help them help you! Please also feel free to share funny stories of support gone wrong. (I know you have them.)

I was able to write this post based on what I learned while dealing with chronic illnesses. I am blessed to say i was able to reverse most them, including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, multiple auto-immune conditions and more. Please contact me at 317.489.0909 if you would like to start the process of conquering your own health challenges. Please visit my Classes page and my Free Downloads page to start equipping yourself.


Image courtesy of Q. Thomas Bower

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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5 Responses to What People with Chronic Illness Wish You Knew

  1. This is amazing advice Dr. Reilly. You’re very right that a lot of people don’t know how to act around people with serious conditions or diseases but it can often really help to just think about a few of these simple things.

  2. Sharmie says:

    Pamela, great article . . . For many years, I have reiterated many of the points you covered in the article; and not just regarding chronic illness, but for life in general.

  3. Greta Boris says:

    Very Helpful information! Thanks

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