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Effects of chronic illness

effects of chronic illness

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 What is chronic illness?

This is a serious illness in that it may last for a long time, it may not be curable and it may have many ways of impacting on both the person with it and those caring for them. Examples of chronic illnesses are cancer, ME, dementia, depression and osteoporosis. Some can be immediately life threatening such as heart attack or stroke whereas others linger over time and need intensive management such as diabetes.

In terms of stress factors the effects of chronic illness are very high up the scale and needs to be taken seriously in how it impacts on the emotional and mental health of a family as well as the physical health. This means that if someone in your family has a chronic health condition it’s very important that you and everyone else take time to think about what to put in place to support everyone through this potentially very difficult time.

Coming to terms with chronic illness

There are four points that are worth considering in order to help you stay on track during this time – gathering information, emotional support, short term goals and long term possible outcomes. Gathering information is helpful at all the different stages of the illness. At the beginning when the person is either just experiencing symptoms or has been given a diagnosis you are often faced with a huge amount of information that can at times be conflicting and confusing. Find out if there are specialist organisations for the particular condition that you are dealing with. These organisations will have supported lots of people in your situation and will have information packs with common questions and links to other forms of support. See if there is any literature or websites that are written by people who have first hand experience of the condition so that you can research what others have found helpful. One really important warning about information is that it is very easy to become overwhelmed, overloaded and confused in this technological and free information age, so a good practice is to make information gathering the job of at least two people who can support each other to find their way through and collate a useful selection of material.

Help and support

Emotional support is essential, but surprisingly it is still under-recognised for people who, on the surface, are experiencing a physical condition. There is now widespread acceptance that the mind and body are very interlinked so if a person is having a physical problem it will also be helpful to treat it emotionally. It can also be extremely upsetting and frightening to be close to someone who is chronically unwell and in order to be able to go on caring and supporting another it is vital for the carers to be receiving emotional support. Friends and extended family members can offer good support in this area and it’s also worth considering professional options such as helplines, support centres and counselling services. The people gathering the information can also look out for what support is offered from the specialist organisations.

chronic illness

Making goals

Having some short term goals within the family will give you all a sense of hope and control and is a good way of working with the condition without putting too much pressure on the person who is experiencing it. Each person in the family could make goals as well to ensure that no one is unnecessarily putting their whole life on hold whilst dealing with this situation. For the person with the illness it is very important that they are supported to stay in charge of their goals and that whilst encouraged to be realistically optimistic their pace is also accepted.Facing up to possible long term outcomes of a chronic illness is also very important. Whilst it may feel very frightening to consider what is ahead, it can feel a lot better to confront it and think it through rather than completely ignoring the possibilities. It’s important to get a balance of talking things through and staying open to all possiblitlies rather than fixing on a certain outcome and again, people outside of the family may be very helpful in helping you to keep a wide perspective.

Making time to for everyone to talk honestly and name their fears and worries will lessen any build up of stress overtime. Checking in with children to make sure that they are not blaming themselves for someone becoming ill is important as they often do take on responsibility during times like these. Putting little things in place each day to help you relax such as a walk in nature, meditation and time with friends will help you to stay strong and resourced and making sure that you all find ways to still laugh and enjoy life is paramount.



About Jenny Smith

About Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith is a freelance writer and facilitator specialising in mental health, well-being and ecotherapy. She writes for National Mind and The Working Parent and facilitates training in the Work that Reconnects and Ecotherapy. She is inspired by nature, gardening, love and non-duality teachings

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