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How To Be A Good Friend To Someone With A Disability or Illness

vivatramp how to be a good friend to some with an illness friendship advice lifestyle book blog uk

Being diagnosed with Crohns Disease, and my subsequent health problems since, has had a huge impact on my friendships. In most cases, it strengthened them. In others, not so much. 

Illnesses aren't nice for anyone and I'm guilty of sometimes ignoring the impact that mine has on my loved ones. It's not always black and white and it can be scary to support someone that is ill. However, I'm here today to share some thoughts with you and share a few tips on how to be a good friend to someone with an illness. I hope you find this post useful.  Obviously, I'm only one person with one condition so I cannot speak for everyone but this should be pretty universal.

support your friend
Support your friend as you would any. If you're able to, offer to help them out a bit. They may need lifts to pick up prescriptions or to attend hospital appointments, or they may have some shopping that needs doing or whatever. They may just need someone to chat to. You don't have to bombard them with reminders but just make sure they know that you're there for them and will support them where you can. 

stay educated and ask questions where appropriate 
Not everyone will like talking about their illness, so only broach the subject if it is something that your friend is comfortable with. I personally like it when my loved ones register an interest and ask me about my condition because it gives me a chance to talk about my illness and educate them. You could also do your own research if you don't feel comfortable asking your friend or if they don't wish to talk about it with you. However, don't fall into the trap of believing everything you read and remember that a lot of illnesses are very specific to the individual. Furthermore, don't make presumptions and assume you know it all, but I'll come back to that in a bit. 

know what's acceptable to discuss or make light of 
Moving on from the idea of communication, don't take advantage of the information that you may have been given. It's confidential and they're more than likely to have told you in confidence so don't be a dick. If the sufferer wants to make light of their illness, it's fine and they're more than allowed to do so. However, that doesn't mean it's necessarily okay for you to join in or joke about it yourself. Fatigue sufferers, surprise surprise, don't find 'lazy' jokes funny. Common sense, really. 

involve your friend
This is a huge one to remember! I think a lot of the time people don't really know how to react so they shy away from the sufferer and try and ignore the situation. Surprisingly enough, this makes the sufferer feel quite crap! Invite them to gatherings and such! Even if the answer is no, it feels incredible to even be considered. There's nothing more embarrassing and hurtful than seeing pictures of your closest friends spending time together when they hadn't even messaged you. If your friend can't get out anywhere, or you suspect they're anxious to leave the house, why not ask them if they'd like you to go over to theirs for a little bit? 

be patient and flexible
It's not always easy to plan things with a friend who has an illness because their symptoms can flare up at any time. Whilst it's annoying to have to reschedule plans, it may be necessary. Be patient and strop in secret if needs be! 

restore their pep if needs be 
Having a condition puts a massive strain on your mental health. I would say I'm aware of my anxiety every single day and aware of my depression at least three times a week, if not more. Don't forget to communicate with your friend and let them know how much they mean to you as a person. Don't lay it on thick, of course, because that's incredibly patronising but a message here or a care package there wouldn't go amiss and could help your friend immensely. 

don't 'envy them'
Do not ever say that you envy someone with an illness or are jealous of their lifestyle. It's incredibly disrespectful and shows a clear lack of understanding and empathy. Would you seriously like to be chronically ill for the rest of your life? Would you seriously like to undergo multiple surgeries and diagnostic tests and take multiple tablets and feel hugely isolated and misunderstood every single day of your life? No, you wouldn't. 'Oh, I'd love to not have to go to work'. No. No. No. You're idealising their lifestyle and completely undermining the things that they go through on a daily basis.

don't make presumptions or be patronising
No, I didn't read the article about the latest superfood that 'cures' my illness. No, I didn't eat lots of fast food as a child. No, my bowel disease isn't like your stomach ache. Your friend is the only individual who truly knows how they feel so don't presume you know otherwise. There's an incredible amount of people who try to tell me how I feel and it gets right on my tits. Never talk down to sufferers, you will come away looking like a tit. 

Your friend, ill or not, is still a human being. A lot of the aforementioned points are basically about holding certain levels of respect and courtesy for a fellow human being so just be a good friend in a wider sense and you're more than halfway there. You don't always have to acknowledge their illness. They'd be more than grateful to forget about it for an afternoon! Like this post or leave a comment *wink*, click off the Internet and phone up your mate for a chat. Do it now! 

I really hope this proves to be useful to you in one way or another, whether you are a friend or someone with an illness or even if you're neither of those things, in which case this post must have been really irrelevant. I apologise if I came across a little bit irate. I'm fully aware that I need to be more mindful myself, so I wasn't in any way trying to put myself on a pedestal and shout at you all. We are all a bit shit from time to time. What do you think? Do you have anything else to add? 

If you'd like to scroll through all of my advice posts then you can do so.



  1. I had a friend with Crohn's Disease and it was devastating to watch the impact it had on her. What made it worse was when some of her closest friends drew away from her and she didn't understand why as she was still the same person to the end. Thank you for this wonderful post :) it is so sad that some people (whether intentionally or not) don't understand how to behave around someone who is ill. xxx
    Forever Dreaming of Oz

  2. Don't envy them: seriously? That happens? I'm very surprised by this.. I can't imagine being jealous of someone who can't work because they are sick.. That's such a strange thing. I also can't understand how you can break your friendship with someone after they are diagnosed. I'm someone who supports people no matter what, like with my sister.

    She has fibromyalgia and being patient & flexible is definitely important. Sometimes we plan something, but it's possible she feels terrible that day and we have to move it to another date. I always try to support her and pep her up when she feels down. I must admit that it was sometimes tough, because she can get very cranky and mean when she has a hard day, but you learn to deal with that too :)

    We often see people who find it hard to believe ('You don't look sick) or indeed, who think they have the magic cure.. People can be so ignorant.

  3. Great post, so important to have supportive friends through an illness :)

  4. This is a fantastic post Bee, thank you so much for writing it! Sometimes as a friend it is hard to know the best way to be supportive or know what to say.

  5. This is such a brilliant post!

    I 100% agree on the 'Don't make presumptions or be patronising' bit. I had chronic migraines for a while last year (4 days a week of vomiting, horrible pain, exhaustion - fun times!) and lost count of the number of people who said things like 'Have you tried drinking a glass of water? What about paracetamol?' or the perennial favourite 'It can't be that bad though, can it? I get headaches all the time...'.

    It's so easy to take five minutes to research a friends condition and educate yourself a little bit, and it can mean so much when you're unwell just to have someone say, 'That must really suck. Can I do anything to help you out?'

  6. Beautifully written and explained. It's very difficult to support people when you don't know what they are going through.

  7. Really great post, so spot on. I've found people tend to react to chronic illness in two ways either treating you as the person you are despite being ill, chatting about anything with you or avoiding you like the plague because it's just too hard to accept that you are ill all the time and won't get magically better which is their lost really.

  8. I can completely empathize as I was diagnosed back in 2011 and have had 2 emergency surgeries since.

  9. Really great post and very helpful. I have IBS, Anxiety and Depression so this is something I'm going to share with the people I know and it really works with anyone who has any kind of illness.

  10. Brilliant post! In high school I had a friend with Crohn's Disease and she went through a pretty tough time with it in our last couple of years. I think us girls dealt with it pretty well at the time considering we didn't know too much about it. This post would have been very helpful though! There needs to be more awareness about chronic illnesses, as some are really sort of ignored unless you know someone dealing with it!

  11. So glad you posted this - it's important advice for a LOT of people. I wish it had existed when I was more poorlyerer. I'll be sharing this a few times in the hope that lots of people will read it & take note!

    Love you x

  12. Thank you for this Bee! Some of it seems like complete common sense when you've got an illness, but it's really hard to remember it when it's not yourself suffering (I know I'm guilty of that sometimes!). Going to be sharing this in the hopes some people will learn to be a little more tactful/find it helpful reading! xx

  13. Great post! One of my best friends had Colitis for many years, and eventually had to have her colon removed (after multiple surgeries and colostomy bags). She still has problems with pain, which makes me sad, but I try to be the best support I can. I made many trips over the years to visit her in hospital, and try to come round to her flat when she hasn't got the energy to go out.

  14. This is great! I love that this is something that you write about on your blog. I think illness will terminate or deeply affect a lot of friendships in ways that aren't even intended - it just happens because people don't understand. On my blog, I just wrote about being in a relationship with a heroin addict and my post centered more around how to protect yourself as a friend against being hurt by the illness. I think it's important to remember this part as well, as sometimes you get so involved with caring for the other person that you forget to care for yourself. Thanks again for this great read!

    xx chloe

  15. Thanks for this Bee, one of my best friends is struggling with depression and sometimes I just don't know how to deal with it which is ridiculous as I struggled with self harm for years so I should know how to approach someone in a loving way but it can be very hard. I'm going to give her a text the second I've posted this comment! I'm bookmarking this post and will come back to it when I need some help!
    Hope life is treating you well lovely
    Nina from little nomad

  16. Such a great post, and something that never really gets talked about. I do think every person is different though which just makes things so hard!

    Annabel ♥
    Mascara & Maltesers

  17. Thank you, this is a really great post. I suffer from multiple chronic illnesses and it's amazing how some friends are amazing and supportive, while others just...disappear. It's sad but I guess that's the test of true friendship, huh?

  18. Thanks for this list, it's so spot on! I've lost pretty much all but one of my friends since I became bed ridden with spinal problems three years ago. I don't blame them for moving on, but I wish I could've shown them this post, to help them understand a little better. I don't think most people truly understand what it's like to live with an illness or condition unless they've been through it themselves, but great posts like this will get through to some people! Well done!

  19. 'Don't envy them' rings so true for me. Thanks for posting this! I'm sure everyone who thinks I'm a lady of leisure would just LOVE to have Fibromyalgia, CFS/ME and all the joyous co-conditions like depression, anxiety disorder, IBS, overactive bladder, frequent migraines etc etc. (Sarcasm ahoy!) xx

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