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It's a shock to learn that someone you know has a serious illness. People react differently to getting sick, but you can be a supportive friend regardless. Find out what you can do for them and for yourself.

This can help if:

  • your friend has a serious illness
  • you want to know how to talk about it with your friend
  • you want to understand what your friend is going through.
Close up side view of 2 people holding hands

My friend is sick. What can I do?

When a friend or family member develops a serious illness, it's stressful, especially if there’s a possibility they might die. There's heaps of stuff to think about and it's hard to know what to say or do, or how to be a good friend.

The news of a friend’s illness will probably rock you a fair bit, and you may feel stressed, angry, confused, distracted and depressed all at once. Sometimes it might even take a while to feel anything. Whatever your reaction, it's totally normal.

Look after yourself

You might feel guilty for talking to someone about your normal problems and trivial day-to-day stuff, as well as beginning to worry about what will happen if you lose your friend. However, it’s important to remember that you’ll be much more helpful to your friend if you look after yourself as well.

Talk to someone

If you're having trouble with the news of your friend’s illness, you should talk to someone outside the situation. Counsellors, doctors or other health workers are all good options if you’re looking for some support.

What does your friend need?

Talk to your friend

Young people from CanTeen have said that it's okay to ask your friend questions about their illness, as long as they want to answer them.

Be there if they want company

Remember that your friend might feel lonely and want some company if they're off school or in hospital, so visit/phone/skype/online chat whenever you can.

Encourage others to be there, too

Be aware that your friend will need a lot of support, so try to ensure that there’s a wide support network for them.

Everyone’s reaction is different

It can be hard to talk about serious or life-threatening illness, and your sick friend might not want to talk about it, or even to see you, initially. This doesn't mean they want to cut you out. They've just received really huge, difficult news, and they're trying to process it in their own way.

Let them know you're there for them

If they aren’t ready to see you yet, send them an email, a message or you can even write them a letter telling them you are there to support them.

Things to think about

Be patient

Remember that your friend might have to make massive adjustments to their life, so be patient with them.

Weather the bad days

Things are likely to be frustrating and overwhelming for your friend, and some days they won't have much energy or patience.

Allow for confusion

Sometimes, you're not going to know what's going on or why your friend is doing something. Be flexible, and take one step at a time.

Remember that they’re still them

Even though their sick, your friend is still the person you know and care about. They’re not defined by their illness.

What can I do now?

  • Try to organise some fun activities to help distract your friend from their illness.
  • Find out more about their illness so that you can better understand what they’re going through.
  • Make sure you set aside regular time just for yourself.