Supporting someone with IBD 

Key Points

  • Listen wholeheartedly and give the person with IBD your full attention to what they say. 
  • There are practical things you can do to help someone living with IBD, for example prepare a meal or walk the dog.  
  • Many people living with IBD are self-sufficient and can manage many aspects of their healthcare on their own. Have a conversation to see if and how you can help them.  
  • You can show your support for your colleague by helping to create an IBD-friendly workplace.   

The more you know about IBD, the more you’ll be able to support someone living with the condition. 

We offer a range of helpful resources that cover various aspects of living with IBD including: 

Find somewhere private location free from distraction to have a conversation and offer to support.

How to start a conversation

When someone is unwell with IBD, it can be hard to know what to say or what you can do to support them.  

Here are some dos and don’ts to help guide your conversation.  


  • Choose your timing wisely. Set aside plenty of time to have a conversation and find a quiet place free from distractions.  
  • Listen wholeheartedly and resist the urge to interrupt. Give the person your full attention and listen to what they say. 
  • Ask clarifying questions. Questions might include
    • What does it mean when you say …?”  
    • “Can you tell me more about …?” 


  • Don’t express platitudes. Phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” can be off putting and insensitive despite your best intentions. Simply acknowledging the person’s experiences and showing you are willing to listen can help someone with IBD feel supported and less alone. 
  • Don’t overdo positive encouragement. Be sensitive around how and when you try to encourage positive thinking. Putting emphasis on being positive or overtly encouraging someone to think positively can seem like you are minimising the person’s experiences and concerns, or that you have not really listened to what they have shared. 
  • Don’t give advice unless you’re asked directly. It can undermine the person’s ability to solve their own problems and may come across as disrespectful or presuming to know how that person feels, which can lead to frustration on both sides. Advice about causes or cures should be left to the health professionals. 

4 practical questions to ask someone with IBD 

  1. Is it ok for me to ask about your IBD? 
  2. What would be helpful for me to know about your IBD? 
  3. What are some practical things I can do to help? 
  4. What do you need from me today? 

Tips for family and friends

5 practical things you can do to help a family member or friend with IBD 

  1. Prepare a meal. Check whether they are on a restricted diet first.  
  2. Do a load of laundry. It’s simple yet effective but be sure to ask first before you gather up all their clothes. 
  3. Walk the dog. Getting out to walk the dog can be more challenging for someone with IBD when they are unwell. Offering to take their dog for a walk can be a big help (and their dog will be happy too). 
  4. Pick up their medication from the pharmacy. It might be hard for them to leave the house at times. Offering to pick up their medication or other essential items can be a big help. 
  5. Take them out or plan a movie night. A change of scenery can do a lot of good, but they may not always be well enough to go out. When they are feeling up to it you could suggest a movie night at their place or ask their help in planning a trip out. 
Prepare a meal to support a family member or friend with IBD.

What aspects of a person’s healthcare can I help with? 

Many people living with IBD are self-sufficient and can manage many aspects of their healthcare on their own. However some people, especially if they are newly diagnosed, might like some additional support. Consider having a conversation with them to see if and how you can help. Some ideas include:  

  • Taking them to an appointment and being a ‘second pair of ears’ 
  • Helping them review information about medications or tests and creating a list of questions for their healthcare team 
  • Helping them book appointments 
  • Being available as a sounding board for any issues they’re having. 

Tips for co-workers

Understanding IBD  

There are currently over 100,000 people in Australia with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, the two main types of IBD. People with IBD can and do lead productive and fulfilling lives. 

Many people find it difficult to talk about their IBD diagnosis with people at work. 

There are a range of symptoms associated with IBD including pain, fatigue, vomiting, loss of appetite and diarrhoea. Many people can manage their symptoms with medication, but there may be times when a person’s IBD symptoms get worse, which is called a ‘flare up’. This is when your colleague may need your support and understanding. 

Supporting a co-worker with IBD 

You can show your support for your colleague by helping to create an IBD-friendly workplace.  

Have a conversation with your colleague about how to make your organisation more IBD-friendly.

Some examples of an IBD-friendly workplace include:  

  1. If a meeting is planned, be sure that your colleague has advance notice of the date, time and expected duration. Take notes if your colleague has to slip away for a few minutes to take their medication or use the bathroom. 
  2. Ensure the location and layout of your meeting allows for easy and discrete access to toilet facilities.  
  3. If your meeting includes food, share the food options with your colleague in advance, where possible, so they can make a choice that works for them.  
  4. Be supportive and understanding if your co-worker is absent or isn’t able to attend functions outside of work hours – they may feel fatigued by the end of a day. 
  5. Be mindful of your language around the office and avoid toilet-humour or jokes about symptoms. Remember that not all chronic conditions are visible.