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Social Suffering The Impact of an Illness Diagnosis

Greg Katz

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The days of the leper colony have disappeared in Western culture. There are very few illnesses where the patient is quarantined with 21st century medicine. Even though we don't physically isolate patients for being ill there is a trend toward socially isolating patients, and often it's on an unconscious level. Keeping connections with those who are diagnosed with an illness is critical to their wellness and changes how illness is perceived in our culture.

Why are we so afraid of people who are sick? The biggest fear is contagion. People are scared they will catch something. When we're caught up in the loop of fear the fallout is to pull away from the person. We want to protect ourselves from the experience of illness. Unfortunately, we can try and prevent illness, but we can't guarantee that any or everything we try will ward of the inevitable. As we live longer the odds are greatly increased that we will all suffer from some type of illness.

The biggest factor when dealing with someone who is sick is our own fear. The fear is not of becoming ill, but not knowing what to say or how to act around the person who is ill. We don't publish etiquette books on how to interact with someone who is sick so it becomes a trial and error process. You will make mistakes, usually in the form of silly or off-the-wall comments or statements, but they will be forgiven.

Overwhelmingly people who are sick get more visitors than when they were well. The problem is that those who make the pilgrimage to the bedside of the patient is doing what's “right". It's more a visit of obligation than connection. The patient is looking for connection that is real, authentic and honest. It's perfectly fine to express your uneasiness. The patient is the expert and if you allow them, will guide you through the process of becoming familiar with the illness and allow you to fully express your experience.

When someone is ill that's the time they need connection. Feeling isolated is one of the greatest health risks experienced following a diagnosis. People who are sick aren't looking to spend their days around sick people. They need their friends and family to add a sense of normalcy to their daily lives. Loneliness is often a diagnosis that inhibits the patient's journey to wellness.

If you are healthy be grateful for your health. However, don't let your health get in the way of keeping your connections to those who are ill. Your friendship can be an important part of the patient's treatment.

Isolation will send the patient into a downward spiral. Keeping lines of communication open will enhance your relationship and boost both your immune systems. Even more importantly, you'll be engaging in an act of compassion and that's a gift everyone needs.

Find other ways to empower the life of someone you know who is ill! Get your FREE report “The 5 Pillars of Health and Healing". As a bonus receive the multimedia program “Instilling Hope for Health" something you can share with your loved one who is ill. Both are available at


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