Sharing your diagnosis with loved ones

Telling loved ones you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition can be daunting. Support each other by talking things through.

After receiving a diagnosis, it is common to ask, “How do I tell my friends and family about this?” Here are some tips to help you prepare.

The challenges of sharing your diagnosis

Many people worry about sharing their diagnosis as they do not want to upset or ‘burden’ their family and friends. Associate Professor Michael Baigent, a psychiatrist and beyondblue board director, reassures us these are normal reactions. While he says it’s worth considering other people’s feelings, sharing your news may not be as big an issue as it seems.

Preparing for the conversation

While there’s no right time to share your diagnosis, Professor Baigent says it’s generally best to let others know your news early on. That way, your loved ones can support you from the start.
 
Plan where the conversation will occur. When possible, Professor Baigent advises doing so in person. 

Find a quiet place to talk and arrange to meet at a time when you are unlikely to be interrupted.

You may wish to meet somewhere neutral such as a park, where you can walk while you talk. Try to avoid crowded locations where you may feel restricted expressing yourself freely.
 
If your loved ones live overseas, Professor Baigent advises getting as close as you can to a face-to-face chat (choosing Skype or FaceTime) to share your news.

Having the conversation

Professor Baigent recommends taking a gentle lead-in approach to starting the conversation. Something along the lines of, ‘You may or may not know that I’ve been feeling a bit unwell for a while now. I’ve had some tests and I’ve got the results back'.

Family walking in a park

Be prepared for an emotional response. Your friends and family are also likely to have lots of questions. They may want to know how definite the diagnosis is, how long you’ve known about it and what the outlook (prognosis) is.

How should you react if your loved one has just told you about their diagnosis?

Many people worry about having the ‘right’ reaction to such news. There is no ‘right’ response, so try not to focus on this. Instead, Professor Baigent recommends allowing your loved one to talk freely and express themselves.
 
Try not to offer empty platitudes such as, 'Don’t worry, you’ll be all right'. Instead, be open and sensitive to their concerns and allow them to share as much, or as little, as they want.

Finding more help

There are a number of services available for further help. Some people prefer informal arenas, such as online chat rooms, while others prefer more structured help such as support groups. Because the types of services can “vary enormously”, Professor Baigent says one of the best ways to find one that works for you is to try different ones to see which one you find most helpful.
 
To find a support group near you, search online using the name of your condition and the area you live in (for example, look up ‘cancer support services Melbourne Australia’). Support groups are also available for friends and family.
 
If you want more individualised support, see your GP. Online resources are also available at beyondblue.

Moving forward together

Receiving a diagnosis can be life-changing. While it may seem difficult to tell loved ones your news, letting them know gives them the opportunity to support you and help navigate your journey together.

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