Serious Illness at Home

Many college students are privately coping with the knowledge that someone they love is seriously ill with a chronic physical or mental illness, a terminal illness, or major injury. It is sometimes hard to leave family and friends under the best of circumstances, and it is even harder when serious illness occurs. Powerful feelings accompany this situation.

Students may feel much fear and anxiety over the loss of comunication which occurs when they move away from home. Getting news of a family member's condition is different from being there to see for yourself. "Will I be told the truth?" and "Who do I want to be getting information from?" become new questions to deal with. "How much do I want to know?" also comes into play, and with this question may come guilt or shame.

Sadness and rage can well up at the uncontrollable losses of serious illness. And often this is invisible to others on campus - the feelings may be visible, but the situation giving rise to them is not. Many students find it hard to know who to tell, and when, and how much, about the stress at home. Many students are helped by being able to talk a lot about the home situation, but many who have not been through such a thing find it awkward to listen.

Things may be going along well for a while, then news comes about the family member which is frightening or discouraging. Coping with this news can make it harder to study, rest or play - which in turn takes its own toll on vitality and peace of mind.

It's important to remember that there are people on campus who have had the experience of illness in the family, and some would welcome the opportunity to connect with others on this. The Health Center, ext #4460, with both medical and counseling personnel, is a resource for information, general support and counseling for the stress a student may be experiencing. Chaplains are a good resource as well. Other staff and faculty members may be knowledgeable and willing to help out. If you are in such a situation, or have a friend who is, please don't hesitate to get connected with help. It can make a difference.

Jan Munroe, PhD
Counseling Services