Chronic illnesses are life-long health conditions that may not have a cure. Common examples of chronic illnesses include:
- Alzheimer disease and dementia
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Crohn disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Heart disease
To better understand chronic illnesses, let’s compare them to short-term illnesses.
- Short-term illnesses are temporary problems that are brief interruptions in one’s life. Although these illnesses can be scary and painful to deal with, these are conditions that have clear diagnoses and treatment plans with relatively predictable outcomes.
- Chronic illnesses comparatively are life-threatening medical conditions that without constant care and monitoring are likely to lead to a patient’s death. Patients diagnosed with chronic illnesses are faced with having to adjust to long-term and potentially lifelong symptoms and limitations. Additionally, these kinds of illnesses affect the individual’s daily abilities, their relationships with their family and friends, their dreams for the future and most importantly their sense of who they are.
While living with a chronic illness can be difficult, the following kinds of help are available to patients:
- Individual Counseling:
- Individual counseling allows patients to talk to trained mental health providers in a one-on-one setting. These providers have extensive training in helping patients cope with chronic illnesses and in this setting can help patients navigate how they are feeling about their illness and the impacts that it has on their previous lifestyle and relationships.
- To find mental health professionals trained at working with chronically ill patients, visit Psychology Today. Here you can put in your zip code and find therapists within your area.
- Family and couples counseling:
- Chronic illnesses do not only affect the patient. Instead, they are likely to affect the entire family as roles and responsibilities within a family may change to accommodate the patient’s new diagnosis.
- To help navigate the changes that come with caring for a chronically ill patient, families may want to consider seeking counseling from mental health providers that are trained in this arena.
- Need to look for resources
- Support groups:
- Support groups exist for a number of chronic illnesses and can act as a safe and welcoming space for patients diagnosed with the same chronic illness to share their experiences
- These groups are also often free of judgement and by participating in them, a patient can feel less alone in dealing with their illness. The patient can also learn new coping strategies from fellow support group members as well as share their own approaches
- Support groups are open to anyone, but are often focused on specific topics including family, grief, depression…etc. This means that it’s important to take the time necessary to do some research and find one that is right for you and your current situation.
- When finding a support group to join, begin by asking your primary care physician or mental health professional. These health providers may be able to direct you towards support groups within your area and more specifically to those groups that are organized around a particular topic/illness (I.e., support groups for people with diabetes).
- Another place to start when looking for a support group is Support Groups Central. Here you will find a curated list of support groups from other organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Health. On this website, you can also search for groups by topics such as depression, addiction and chronic illness. When you’ve chosen your topic, you can see a curated list of meetings by title, date & time, the organization holding the meeting and whether or not the meeting is free.
- In the event, that you prefer not to attend support groups in person, there are also online support groups. These can be especially helpful if you find that there are no support groups in your immediate area.
- One such avenue is the app, Wisdo which allows you to join specific themed communities to discuss anything at any time with a variety of different people. Here, you can find or create communities for any topic that you would like support for. Within the app, you can also set goals for yourself and flag yourself as a potential “helper” or mentor” for other users who are going through experiences that you may have gone through in the past.
For more information or personal stories on living with a chronic illness, consider reading the following articles: