Shed the stigma of diabetes
11 July, 2021

An astonishing four in five people say they have suffered stigma, and that’s the last thing they need, says Caroline Wells, Diabetes Tasmania CEO.

July 11-17 marks National Diabetes Week and this year, our focus is on tackling diabetes-related stigma. In a recent report commissioned by Diabetes Australia surveying 2324 people and conducting 52 in-depth interviews with people with diabetes, it was found that an astonishing 4 out of 5 said they experienced stigma at some point in their lives.   

That is a shocking amount of people considering their experiences are likely to be reflected in the 1.2 million Australians currently living with diabetes.   

But behind the numbers are real people.   

At Diabetes Tasmania, we meet these people every day and we understand firsthand just how important it is for all of us to tackle diabetes related stigma.   

In Tasmania alone, 30 000 people are diagnosed with diabetes, 12 000 people live with the disease undiagnosed and 45 000 are at high risk of diabetes, that is 16% of our island population. Diabetes is Australia’s fastest growing chronic condition and most of us would know someone who has been diagnosed.   

There are different types of diabetes but regardless of what type of diabetes a person is diagnosed with, there is no such thing as “mild” diabetes. All types of diabetes are serious and can lead to complications such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, limb amputation, and blindness. Added to the list is also the mental and emotional health impact of living with diabetes where stigma plays a huge role.    

A lot of the stigma people with diabetes experience is related to misconceptions or misunderstanding of what it means to have diabetes. For example, people reported being judged when eating certain foods or blamed for having caused their diabetes in the first place.    

The stigma they experience in turn has a significant impact on their mental health. It can lead to people feeling ashamed, guilty, and embarrassed. Some even hide their condition from others to avoid the risk of being blamed and shamed.   

All of this negatively impacts their ability to manage their diabetes which is so concerning.  Furthermore, with a culture of personal responsibility and with a view that people with diabetes brought their condition on themselves, there is less interest in supporting those people through efforts such as donations and research for a cure.   

Perhaps you too have a picture appear in your head when you hear “diabetes” or make assumptions about who gets diabetes and why? Chances are you are probably basing it on myths, not facts. This National Diabetes Week, I urge you to take the time to learn more about diabetes and challenge your preconceived ideas of what ‘diabetes’ means.  

Living with diabetes is demanding and a 24/7 condition, where there are no days off.

Diabetes is relentless. Every minute of every day, a person with diabetes faces decisions, thoughts, worries and fears about their diabetes and the future impact the condition may have on their health.   

The daily burden of living with diabetes can be significant. It’s estimated that people with diabetes face up to 180 diabetes-related decisions every day. That’s more than 65,000 extra decisions a year. Diabetes distress, anxiety and burnout are real complications of diabetes.   

It is important to know that people are doing their best with the resources they have. Regardless of what type of diabetes a person has, they did not ask to get it.  

I understand we cannot expect everyone without diabetes to know everything about what it is like to live with and manage diabetes. Yet, it is important to know that diabetes does not discriminate, anyone can develop diabetes. Together, we can make sure we create an environment where diabetes is taken seriously and people are met with kindness, respect and understanding.   

Caroline Wells 

CEO, Diabetes Tasmania 

To raise awareness about National Diabetes Week 2021, Diabetes Tasmania is turning the lights of the city blue. More information about this year’s theme for National Diabetes Week can be found on https://headsupdiabetes.com.au/   

Diabetes Tasmania is here for you now and into the future. We offer free information, programs, individual health advice and services. Contact us if you would like to speak to a team member.

 

This article was originally published by The Mercury. 

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