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7 Ways a Loved One’s Illness Affects the Whole Family

A person’s quality of life tends to be similar to those around them - when someone you love develops a serious illness, the negative impact on the patient’s life can also influence the rest of the family’s well-being. While it’s critical that family members support their sick loved one, it’s equally important to be aware of obstacles that illness can impose on the whole family. By understanding the challenges that may arise, your family will be better prepared to work through them and support your sick loved one as a strong, united front.

So what kind of problems do family members face when a loved one becomes ill? If you have a sick loved one, here are 7 challenges your family may need to work through:

1. Emotional upheaval

Watching someone you love struggle with illness is painful, making many family members feel a sense of helplessness or loss of control. Emotions impact each person to different extents, but it’s normal to feel any or all of the following emotions:

  • Guilt

  • Anger

  • Fear

  • Frustration

  • Embarrassment

  • Despair

Click here to uncover the 6 stealthy disguises of depression in men

2. Function disruption

Each family member fills certain roles in their household, allowing the family to function like clockwork (well, maybe not like clockwork – we’ve all left a sink full of dishes overnight or forgotten to pay a bill!). But when one family member becomes too ill to function, it can feel like the family structure has gone completely off the rails. The rest of the family feels pressure to fill the roles of the patient, and trying to absorb another person’s responsibilities can feel overwhelming.

3. Body burn-out

Driving your family member to medical appointments, preparing special meals, picking up prescriptions, and being too stressed to sleep can make you feel like your body’s tank is constantly running on empty. Neglecting your own appointments, feeling exhausted, having gastrointestinal issues, and developing body aches are common symptoms of caregiver stress.  

Experiencing caregiver-stress? Click here

4. Rocky relationships

Each family member deals with a variety of complex emotions, and it can be hard for them to understand one another. Some may feel anger from being burdened with most of the caregiving, while others might feel neglected as the patient gets most of the family’s attention. Poor communication can cause tension and arguments between family members; in turn, strained relationships make it harder for the patient to remain positive and hopeful as they cope with their illness.

5. Work and school slip-ups

A person’s illness can be very disruptive to their family’s professional and academic lives. If dad is in the hospital, he can’t help his kids with their math homework. If mom has to drop everything to respond to grandma’s health emergencies, she may miss important meetings or deadlines. Focusing on completing work or school assignments is difficult when family members are worried about their loved one’s health.

Worried about how a loved one’s illness is impacting your child in school?

6. Financial fall-out

The financial implications of a family member’s illness often present a tremendous burden. If the patient was normally the family’s main bread-winner, the rest of the family has to quickly adjust to life without their regular income. If the patient is a child, one or more parents may need to take a leave from work and disability income is often less than their standard pay. Costs of treatments, transportation, medication, and hiring caregivers can quickly mount into unmanageable expenses, adding to the family’s stress.

7. Social struggles

Meeting the constant needs of severely sick loved ones can leave little time for hobbies and social activities. If medical bills are stacking up, you may not have much cash left to watch a pay-per-view fight with the guys or get your roots touched up at the salon. The emotional impact of a family member’s illness can also make it difficult to have fun and connect with friends, as many people fear coming off as a “downer” when they talk about what’s going on.

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8. Need for support

All of these challenges are significant and should not be taken lightly; the good news is, your family doesn’t have to face them alone, and there are ways to leverage these obstacles to strengthen your family rather than tear it apart. With the right support, your family can maintain a healthy quality of life while tending to the needs of your sick loved one.

Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting teenage boys through life’s transitions. If you are a man or teenage boy struggling with a family member’s illness, Dr. Sample can provide a safe place to work through your challenges.    

Dr. Elsa Torres, Psy.D., is an expert in diagnostic testing and counseling and is experienced in helping families strengthen their relationships and improve their quality of life. If your family is being affected by a loved one’s illness, Dr. Torres can support you in coping with challenges and finding happiness.

Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. If you worry that a family member’s illness has had a negative impact on your child, Dr. Shinn can provide diagnostic testing and recommend support for your child’s unique needs.

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Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.

Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams, graduate and professional licensing exams such as MCAT, LSAT, GRE, CBEST, NCLEX, GMAT, CA Cosmetology Exam, CA Contractors State Licensing Exam, and CA Bar Exam).

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References:

Golics, C. J., Basra, M. K., Salek, M. S., & Finlay, A. Y. (2013). The impact of patients' chronic disease on family quality of life: an experience from 26 specialties. International journal of general medicine6, 787-98. doi:10.2147/IJGM.S45156

How Chronic Illness or Disability Affects a Family (2014). Healthychildren.org. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chronic/Pages/How%20Chronic-Illness-Affects-the-Family.aspx

Shinn, M.M. (2018). How to Care for Aging Parents while Raising a Family: 8 Tips for the Sandwich Generation.  Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post].  Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/how-to-care-for-aging-parents-while-raising-a-family-8-tips-for-the-sandwich-generation

Shinn, M.M. (2018). Stealth Depression in Men: Unmasking its 6 Disguises. Psychologically Speaking.

[Variations Psychology blog post].  Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/stealth-depression-in-men-unmasking-its-6-disguises

Wittenberg, E., Saada, A., & Prosser, L. A. (2013). How illness affects family members: a qualitative interview survey. The patient6(4), 257-68.

How to Cite This Blog Article:

Shinn. M.M. (2019). 7 Ways a Loved One’s Illness Affects the Whole Family. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/7-ways-a-loved-ones-illness-affects-the-whole-family