When we picture our lives, we all hope that we will grow old easily and peacefully, surrounded by our loved ones who remain healthy and happy right along with us. We never picture ourselves or someone we love struggling with a serious health issue. And so when it happens, it can be hard for us to know what to say or do. For someone going through a health challenge like a major illness or injury, it is possible that they will have a difficult time coping with the changes they are experiencing both mentally and physically. As a friend or family member, it can be tough to figure out how best to help your loved one through a hard time.
“The best thing that you can do for a loved one who is facing a health challenge is to be there,” says Dr. Gregory Stepp of the White-Wilson Family Medicine Clinic in Fort Walton Beach. “I think people often underestimate the power of a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on, but for those who are sick, it may make all the difference.”
Being there for someone, often referred to as “social support,” has been the subject of numerous research articles in terms of its relation to health outcomes. Almost all of these studies point to the findings that having social support can greatly improve life expectancy and even act as a buffer against psychological and physical illness.
“We also know that social support plays a huge role after the occurrence of an illness or injury,” Dr. Stepp explains. “People who have someone to talk to or help them along the way experience fewer of the depressive symptoms that often accompany a major health challenge. This can play an important role in the recovery process.”
Beyond serving as a listening ear for someone facing a health challenge, Dr. Stepp outlines other ways someone can offer support to a loved one.
“For example, you can offer to do mundane tasks like running errands, cooking or cleaning. This will take things off the patient’s plate and allow them to focus more of their energy on recovery.”
Dr. Stepp also recommends:
- Taking your loved one out to do something they enjoy and help them get their mind off their health
- Taking into account their limitation and finding other ways to spend time with them
- Researching what he/she is facing so you are better informed of what they may be experiencing
- Remaining a source of optimism for them
- Refraining from offering advice on how to cure/treat their illness
- Confirming that their emotions are valid and encouraging them to seek additional help if needed
“This list is not exhaustive,” Dr. Stepp reminds. “And everybody is different. What works for one person, won’t necessarily work for the next person. That’s why it is important for you, as their loved one, to be in the support role, you know them best.”
Dr. Gregory Stepp is a Family Medicine physician at White-Wilson Medical Center in Fort Walton Beach. He currently offers same-day appointments and is now accepting new patients. Learn more about Dr. Stepp and his approach to patient care here.