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7 Things You Shouldn’t Say To Someone With A Chronic Disease

  • binish ahmed mfine Binish Ahmed
  • 3 Min Read
  • Fact Checked

A chronic disease is a long-term health condition that may have no cure. The incidence of chronic diseases has increased tremendously over the last fifty years, making it a major disease burden for most countries. Living with a chronic disease can be exhausting and can make one feel lonely. Therefore, it is important that be supportive and a good listener.

However, such people do get to hear their fair share of comments that can be insulting or hurtful, even if the intentions are good. Thus it is important that you empathize with them, examine your word choice and learn better ways to respond.

Here are 6 things you should avoid saying to a person with a long-term health condition.

“I am sorry”

A chronic disease is not a funeral, therefore sympathies may seem out of place. Instead of saying or feeling sorry for the person, say statements like, “I’m here to listen” or “I’m here to help.” Such words can be reassuring and imply that you’ll listen to the person without assigning judgement.

“Be positive” 

Instead say things like, “what can help you feel better?” or “Is there anything I can do to help you?” Saying positive thinking can cure any illness is a big no-no. Having a positive outlook can be helpful in some situations but one can’t say that a person with chronic disease can think his or her way out of feeling ill. 

“But you look fine to me”

This may sound like that the person isn’t sick or the illness is not real. Everyone does have days where they don’t feel well but look fine. Not every illness will manifest outwardly. Keep in mind that some of the chronic health conditions (hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune illnesses or mental health conditions) are “silent,” i.e they do not show visible symptoms. Also, someone with chronic illness puts spends a lot of time ensuring treatment is on track so that they don’t backslide. Therefore, they may not appear as sickly as you think they might be.

“I know how you feel”

Empathy is nice but it isn’t always necessary. For instance, the fatigue you feel when you haven’t slept well or indulged in too much physical activity is different from the fatigue a person with chronic health condition experiences. Fatigue associated with chronic illnesses like diabetes, depression, lupus or fibromyalgia is an entirely different thing. This type of exhaustion can drain the person mentally and physically.

“It could be worse”

This is definitely not a cheerful thing to say. Such remark can devalue the person’s experience and belittles the actuality of the chronic disease. Remember that you cannot measure a person’s suffering or pain. If you can’t find the right words, be honest and tell them, “I don’t know what to say here but I am here to listen.

“You should try this activity/food”

This may sound like, “You aren’t doing things the right way.” It also makes the conversation about your experience, instead of the patient’s journey with chronic disease. Let experts give medical advice. Amateur suggestions can prove to be dangerous in certain conditions. 

“It’s probably stress”

Remember, chronic illnesses are not solely caused by stress or working too hard. Stress can be a triggering factor that can exacerbate the existing issue. Such a statement says that they are the root cause of the condition and let it happen as they got too stressed. This means that you are disregarding everything and indirectly saying that, “You are the reason for the illness” which is not. 

The takeaway

Most of the time, people suffering from chronic diseases only need one thing from you: compassion. No sympathy, no judgement, no unsolicited advice— just a listening ear, a hug or maybe reassuring words like, “I am here for you.” Do not give unwanted suggestions. If they want advice, they will simply ask. Living with a chronic health condition can be difficult and isolating but support from family, friends and acquaintances can work wonders. A little care and empathy go a long way!

  • binish ahmed mfine
  • Written by

    Binish Ahmed

A rebel with a cause, keen observer, and a writer by choice. She draws from her background in life sciences to craft well-researched pieces on healthy living, diseases management, and everything healthcare.

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