10 Tips For Supporting Co-Survivors

10 Tips For Supporting Co-survivors

As healthcare professionals, you play a pivotal role in the lives of patients facing serious medical events. But have you ever considered the impact of these events on the close friends and family surrounding them? πŸ’”

Co-survivors, as we call them, often bear an immense emotional burden while supporting their loved ones through difficult times. Understanding co-survivors’ needs is crucial for offering compassionate care and mitigating lasting trauma.

Wait! Don’t leave!

We know your focus is on the patient, and here we are, asking you to do more. But by acknowledging and addressing co-survivors’ needs, you can reconnect with the essence of compassionate care. Care that can actually reduce burnout and enhance the functionality of the entire care team.1,2 πŸ†

Moreover, supporting co-survivors can decrease anxiety, mitigate PTSD-like symptoms, foster a sense of support, and help them better process their experiences, ultimately leading to reduced trauma.

We’ve compiled some quick and easy tips to help support co-survivors. Best of all, each of these tips takes less than a minute. So pick one – or more if you want bonus points  – and run with it! πŸ™Œ

When you engage with co-survivors, look into their eyes, signaling that you see them as individuals deserving of attention and connection. A simple act of eye contact can offer comfort and reassurance. πŸ‘€

Medical information can be overwhelming. While in the middle of a traumatic event, people’s ability to take in and remember information decreases, so keep it simple and write it down. Co-survivors’ cognitive load during this stressful time makes it hard to comprehend the situation fully and remember important details. Use plain language and break down complex explanations to ensure co-survivors understand what’s happening. Remember, knowledge empowers. πŸ“„

While it may seem easier to sugar-coat difficult news, it’s essential to speak plainly. Using euphemisms can create confusion and cause additional distress. Be honest and communicate with empathy and clarity. πŸ—£οΈ

Remember to ask how co-survivors are coping. Showing genuine concern for their emotional and physical well-being can provide a much-needed moment where they feel seen, fostering trust. 🫢

Traumatic events may have preceded your interaction with the co-survivor. By naming them as such, you acknowledge that the experience is happening to them, too. Understand that co-survivors may experience various emotions, including fear, grief, anger, and guilt. Validate their feelings by acknowledging them and offering a safe space for expression. β€οΈβ€πŸ©Ή


Flanary, Kristin. “Words to Leave By: Bridges Out of the Quiet Place.” Journal of Cardiac Failure 28.11 (2022): 1646-1648.

Remind co-survivors to prioritize some self-care throughout the process. Encouraging them to rest, eat well, exercise, and engage in enjoyable activities can help them maintain their overall well-being. But remember that they may have a diminished capacity to care for themselves amidst everything they are dealing with, so you may need to go a step further and connect them with resources (see number 8). πŸ’–

Share information about local support groups, counseling services, and online communities where co-survivors can connect with others who have faced similar journeys. Connecting with others can be profoundly healing.🀝

Sometimes, all co-survivors need is someone to listen without judgment. Practice active listening, engage with empathy, and hold space for their stories and concerns.πŸ‘‚

The journey doesn’t end after major medical events. When you check in with co-survivors at follow-up appointments to see how they are faring, this simple gesture shows that you genuinely care about their well-being. πŸ’™

You already are by being here! You get an A+ for seeking out resources, research, and personal narratives that provide insight into the unique perspective of co-survivors. πŸ’«

Remember, small actions can make a significant difference for co-survivors. Integrating these tips into your practice can help co-survivors feel seen, heard, and supported during their loved one’s medical event. 

Heartsight: Understanding Cardiac Arrest: Here, you’ll find trusted resources carefully curated from clinical research and shared experiences of individuals who have experienced a Sudden Cardiac Arrest. There are resources for survivors, co-survivors, witnesses, bereaved, and healthcare professionals.

Susan G. Komen Co-survivor Resources: Here, you’ll find support and resources for co-survivors of breast cancer, which apply to being a co-survivor of any life-altering cancer diagnosis. The site offers information on co-survivors’ roles, varied ways of providing practical and emotional support, and co-survivor support networks.

Flanary, Kristin. “Words to Leave By: Bridges Out of the Quiet Place.” Journal of Cardiac Failure 28.11 (2022): 1646-1648.

1Trzeciak, Stephen, Anthony Mazzarelli, and Cory Booker. Compassionomics: The revolutionary scientific evidence that caring makes a difference. Pensacola, FL: Studer Group, 2019.

2Ely, Wes. Every deep-drawn breath: A critical care doctor on healing, recovery, and transforming medicine in the ICU. Simon and Schuster, 2022.