To help you learn more about what you shouldn’t say to chronically ill people, we’ve put together this list of seven things you should never say (source: healthline.com):
1. “You look fine! You don’t look sick at all!”
Again, just because you don’t see the disease, doesn’t mean it’s not there. How someone’s feeling may not be visible, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel extremely tired, that they don’t end up exhausted by climbing a few stairs, or that they don’t feel sick to their stomach. Even a fever can be “invisible.”
It’s totally normal for patients to suffer from symptoms that stop them from doing what other people do, even though those symptoms may not show.
2. “I’m so sorry for you!”
Pity is something that may come with comments from people who are completely unaware of what the disease actually is. The unknown is something that could be extremely dangerous — and scary. When people are trying to be nice and trying to empathize, they can express pity as a way to try and connect. Most of the time, people don’t know how to address health conditions and simply don’t know what to say. Let’s be honest: patients would rather hear something like, “I’m here for you” or “You can count on me” as opposed to people saying they’re sorry, right?
3. “I’m sure things will get better!”
Sometimes you’ll want to be nice, so you’ll say something that seems fine in your head but doesn’t come out as you intended. If you’re talking about someone with a chronic illness, they’ll have to live with that disease for the rest of their life. Sure, they’ll have ups and downs and some moments will be better than others, and at some point they’ll feel better, but the disease will always be with them.
Even though you might want to show your support, saying that things will get better is not fair. Living with a chronic illness is like being on a rollercoaster all the time; nobody can predict what’s going to happen next.
4. “You look great! How did you lose all that weight?”
At the moment, we live in a culture full of crazy ideas of physical perfection. Sometimes society wants us to believe that everyone should have the perfect body: slender with just the right amount of muscle. So it’s understandable that, if a friend loses weight, you may compliment them on their weight loss — and that would be fine, if the reason they lost weight was not related to their health.
5. “You know, maybe you got that because of something you did.”
Everyone has an opinion, and everyone knows someone who is friends with someone that has a certain disease because they did something or took something. Well, it’s not quite like that. If you’re unfamiliar with someone’s health condition, don’t suggest they developed their illness because of something they did.
Though it’s true that there are certain risk factors associated with pretty much all health conditions, that does not mean that the patient played any role in developing it.
6. “You’ll be fine! I have a friend who has a cousin who suffers from the same thing and she’s doing great!”
Everyone has an opinion and everyone knows someone who is friends with someone that has a certain disease — and that might be true. But not everyone is the same, and the exact same health condition can affect different people in very different ways. So while another friend of a friend may suffer from fibromyalgia and have some very bad days, that does not mean that this friend will go through the exact same thing.
7. “Well, you could have a more severe disease! It could be way worse.”
Every health condition is a serious health condition. People tend to tell patients that things could be worse, that they could have a more serious disease, but no one knows what someone’s going through. Having a chronic illness means that they have to deal with it for the rest of their life.