How Can I Help My Friend Who Is Obsessed With Illness??


Asked by domalskid

How Can I Help My Friend Who Is Obsessed With Illness??

I have a friend who I believe has hypochondria. While she doesn't instantly jump to the conclusion that she has cancer, or something else just as deadly, every time she has a little symptom, she DOES talk about it ALL the time, as well as every medication she takes (as well as EVERY time she takes them: "Oh, I'm taking my meds," "I'm taking my meds now.", "Hmm, where are my meds? I need to take them."), doctor's appointments, the doctors themselves, whatever illnesses she's been diagnosed as having, 99% of the time. I'm at my wit's end. I've been very close friends with her for almost 4 years. And while we have Bipolar in common, which was our initial connection and what we talked about at first, it's like that conversation has never ended, and I feel I know nothing else about my friend beyond her always being "sick." That's all she talks about, and I've confronted her on several different occasions. Each time she got extremely defensive and angry. Well, I wouldn't really call our "talks" a "conversation" as I don't respond to her, I just stay quiet, trying not to reinforce her obsessions. But I just can't take this anymore. It's depressing talking about always being sick. It's stressful to always hear her complaining about some new symptom. She goes to the doctor at LEAST twice a week. Every time she has ANYthing go awry with her body, she runs to the doctor, whether her family doctor, a specialist, an urgent care clinic, or the ER. For example, she had headaches for a few days in a row, so she rushed to the doctor saying she was having migraines and got a new medication, which she wouldn't stop talking about. She is on 21 different medications, NO exaggeration! (And one of the main side effects of many of them is headaches!) And those are only the ones I'm aware of! Occassionally, she will talk about her dogs, or her recent fight with her mother, but nothing else! I don't want to discuss meds, doctors, hospitals, being sick, etc. anymore! And I've told her this, and I remind her, but still, she only gets angry and defensive. I know she is a good person, she is very giving, humorous, etc., and I love her like a big sister, but I don't know if I can take this friendship anymore unless she can get help for this, and talk about LIFE; there's so much to talk about in life! SO much! I want to get to know her! Behind being "sick" and taking medication and visiting the doctor. Her entire life is based on being a PATIENT. That's all she thinks about, talks about, and does. She has no hobbies, only 2 friends (including me) that she gets together with about once a month, if that. Like I said, at least 2 doctor's appointments a week! And she'll talk about the appt.'s days before and days after, and of course, especially RIGHT after the appt. She will be extremely excited after an appt., talk about the new medication(s) she got, and run to the pharmacy. Is there any way I can help her? Open her eyes to her behavior? I don't know what else to do! Please help!



You've done very well to stand by your friend for so long. Presumably there are some more positive features that help to sustain your friendship? However, your observations do seem all too familiar to me. The 'career patient' is a negative evaluation of a person but one which points to a cycle of dependence upon medical advice, support, medication, assessment and re-assessment.

The first answer to your question rather neatly sums up my own, which is that therapy is needed to break into this pattern of thinking and behavior. It may be that the doctor has already suggested this and it has been rejected. If this is the case it's a shame because cognitive therapy (the one I believe your friend would benefit from) is very effective. It does mean that the doctor needs to work with the psychologist and not undermine the efforts by reinforcing the visits and handing out medication - but that's a different issue.

It's great that you support your friend like this and I can see that your frustration is showing due to the repetitive nature of what's going on. The fact you both have bipolar is something that unites you, but I think if your friend is willing to try psychological therapy for this specific issue, it may cement your friendship even more.

Answered by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS