Someone you know has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. You’re not alone if you are one of the many people that aren’t sure how to approach this situation. ‘What should I say?’ Or ‘what can I do?’ are questions often asked and contemplated by those surrounding an individual who has been diagnosed. Unfortunately there is no specific script or dialogue mapped out that can guide this interaction, however, there are some things to consider when communicating about MS. Being mindful, respectful, and considerate of others’ feelings and sensitive to the circumstances are good starting points in this situation.
If you’re not familiar with MS and do not understand the disease, this is ok. MS can be a challenging condition to absorb information about and there is a significant learning curve when it comes to educating oneself about the disease. It’s not something to be learned overnight, so knowing this going into the situation can help reduce stress and expectations. Telling the other person you’re not sure what MS is but showing interest in how they’re feeling and learning about the disease can open this communication exchange. Sometimes just saying ‘I’m here for you, and if you want to talk I’m happy to listen’ can make the other person feel comforted knowing they have support if they need to reach out.
Many people may feel pressured to not say the ‘wrong thing’ or worry if they don’t react in a certain way when hearing of an MS diagnosis. This can sometimes circle back to your relationship with the individual who has been diagnosed and how you’ve interacted and communicated. You may already have an idea of what would be helpful for them to hear or to not hear in the situation. Your relationship with the person has not changed, so maintaining a balance of support and a matching bond as before can help steady this novel circumstance. Validating their feelings and the symptoms they talk about experiencing can help guide the conversation; be sure to listen and engage with them so they know they’re being heard.
Often the person diagnosed with MS may need time to process the news of a diagnosis, and this may lead to them subsequently distancing themselves or refusing help from those around them. You can’t force someone to ask for or accept help, or push them into disclosing their feelings. So in these instances telling them ‘I’m here if you need me,’ and ‘I care about you’ can be a support in itself—and knowing they have supports in place when needed can be reassuring to those diagnosed.