The importance of understanding a friend’s disability or illness

Béibhinn Thorsch

Chronic disabilities and illnesses hold an emotional weight that only those who have come into direct contact with these conditions can understand.

While many have made note of the effects which these conditions have on the lives of the people surrounding the affected individual, it can not be understated that the life of the sufferer is still the life most deeply affected.

Common chronic illnesses include asthma, arthritis, epilepsy, endometriosis, and Crohn’s disease, to name a few. They affect quality of life and how the individual approaches their day to day existence.

Often the severity of an illness, especially so-called “invisible illnesses” such as fibromyalgia or some of the illnesses mentioned above, is underestimated.

It is important that those with chronic illnesses and disabilities are receiving adequate treatment, and take advantage of any opportunities for support.

By taking advantage of these opportunities, those who are chronically ill can live outside of their illness some more, and hopefully act in a way that is positive for them mentally.

Supporting someone with chronic illnesses could mean the difference between life and death, in the most extreme circumstances.

The weight of supporting an illness which is not your own, and constantly considering the effects of something you say or do relating to a friend with an illness can be difficult for the supporter.

However it is important to remember that having a friend who has a disability or chronic illness need not be all that different from any other friend which you have.

Limiting someone to their disability or illness is a common error, although it is understandable when you care for your friend and are trying to consider how they may be affected by plans you make or even day to day activities.

The easiest way to support a friend in this situation is to let them know that they can be comfortable to share the effects of their illness at any time and to express what they may need to help with their symptoms.

This could be as simple as finding somewhere to sit down, a quiet room to regain composure, helping them find medication in their bag, or even calling a taxi or family member for them.

After having to speak up so often for so long, Often people with chronic illness may choose to fight through the pain (if possible), excuse themselves from the situation, or become defensive or upset.

Whatever way the individual deals with the discomfort they’re feeling, they should continue to be supported and respected.

Those with chronic illnesses can have a disjointed daily routine, which serves to negatively impact their mental health.

According to, a lack of routine and because they “don’t always feel like socializing, keeping up friendships, hobbies, and taking excursions their social relationships can take strain”.

Making an effort to keep your loved one with a chronic condition social and open to partaking in accessible activities is incredibly beneficial.

Staying positive can be difficult for those with chronic conditions. According to ThriveTalk, “around one-third of all people with a chronic health conditions suffer from depression and for some conditions this figure can rise to over fifty percent.”

Overall, keeping an open heart for your loved one with any disability or illness is the most selfless and loving act you can take on. Communicate this openness to your loved one, and hopefully, everyone can stay living their best life.

Béibhinn Thorsch

Image credit: Birmingham Post and Mail