Navigating Friendships with Chronic Conditions: The Emotional and Physical Work Required to Stay Connected

24 May 2023

  • Friendship is under-studied in the context of chronic conditions but is an important source of support for managing these conditions.
  • People living with chronic conditions make compromises to maintain friendships, masking part of their identity to feel included and accepted.
  • This research provides insight into how friendships are created, nurtured, maintained, and dissolved in the context of chronic conditions like MS.

Exploring the complexities of maintaining social connectedness – a new study highlights the challenges for individuals with chronic conditions like MS.

Friendship plays a vital role in supporting wellbeing, protecting from physical and mental health deterioration, and reducing loneliness throughout life.

However, there is limited information on how health conditions shape people’s ability to develop and sustain friendships, or how friendship shapes the experience of living with a chronic health condition.

Some research suggests that the onset of a chronic health condition affecting a person’s physical abilities leads to reduced social engagement with friends.

Dr Maja Moensted and her team at the University of Sydney are studying how people with chronic conditions maintain friendships.

Published in SSM – Qualitative Research in Health, 40 individuals with chronic conditions and experiences of loneliness were interviewed for this ongoing study, revealing the emotional and physical work required to maintain friendships.

Participants in the study discussed the challenges of balancing social authenticity with the desire for social inclusion, highlighting the social trade-offs involved in maintaining friendships.

For individuals with MS, understanding the complexities of friendship may provide insights into accessing the support they need.

What was the aim of the research?

The aim of this research was to explore how individuals with chronic conditions navigate friendships, including the personal labour and identity work required to maintain social connections.

What did the study find?

According to the study, individuals with chronic conditions face challenges in establishing and maintaining friendships.

Societal expectations that people should not be affected by their chronic conditions can restrict their opportunities for social participation, making it difficult to maintain existing friendships and form new ones.

Participants discussed the challenges of maintaining even weak social connections, which may hinder their ability to form new friendships.

The emotional and physical effort required to maintain these connections was highlighted, including the need to compromise authenticity for other desirable social gains, such as a desire for social inclusion.

Many participants felt compelled to hide certain aspects of themselves, including their condition, to feel included and accepted, and maintain their friendships.

What does this mean for people with MS?

This research sheds light on the difficulties people with chronic conditions, such as MS, face in establishing and sustaining friendships.

Even weak social connections can be beneficial in alleviating loneliness and providing emotional support.

By understanding the personal labour and identity work required to maintain friendships, individuals with MS may be better equipped to navigate social relationships and access the support they need.

Furthermore, healthcare providers may be able to provide more targeted support to individuals with chronic conditions by recognising the importance of social networks in chronic condition management.

To find out more about the study or to take part in this research, please click here.


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Navigating Friendships with Chronic Conditions: The Emotional and Physical Work Required to Stay Connected