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What is Diabetes?
Diabetes affects insulin function and can lead to high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Diabetes is a serious and complex condition that can affect your entire body. There is currently no cure for diabetes, it requires daily self-care, and without that care, complications can develop, leading to a negative impact on your quality of life and a reduction of your life expectancy.
Due to its complexity, this condition is often misunderstood. This misunderstanding creates negative attitudes and beliefs that affect many people living with diabetes – with a very real impact on their self-care, physical health, mental health and quality of life.
What types of Diabetes are there?
There are different types of diabetes; all types are complex and serious. The three main types of diabetes are type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.
Diabetes is serious
Diabetes is the epidemic of the 21st century and one of the biggest challenges confronting Australia’s health system. Around 1.8 million Australians have diabetes, including all types of diagnosed diabetes as well as silent, undiagnosed type 2 diabetes.
Understanding diabetes and its seriousness is important. For those living with diabetes, it can be tough, affecting them both physically and emotionally. This emotional distress is further amplified when the person living with diabetes experiences daily stigma attached with the disease.
According to the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes, more than 4 in 5 people with diabetes have experienced diabetes stigma at some point in their lives. This means that many people with diabetes feel they have been judged or treated differently than others because of their diabetes.
Sometimes diabetes-related stigma is based on a lack of understanding. But sometimes it is based on negative attitudes or prejudice. In either scenario, the stigma around diabetes negatively affects many people living with the disease.
Experiences of Diabetes-related stigma
Many healthcare professionals and people from the general community do not believe that diabetes is a stigmatised condition, however those who have diabetes often report:
- feelings of failure, guilt, shame or self-blame
- feeling embarrassed or self-conscious when refusing unhealthy foods socially, or when injecting insulin or self-monitoring blood glucose in public
- worry about being treated differently
- worry about loss of relationships/changed relationships
- concern about job security or prospects if employers and/or colleagues become aware of their condition.
Consequences of Diabetes-related stigma
Diabetes-related stigma inevitably has negative psychological, behavioural, and physical consequences for people with diabetes, such as:
- depression, anxiety, or other psychological distress as a result of experienced or expected negative social judgements
- attempts to hide the condition, which can lead to further anxiety and less self-management (e.g. delaying or skipping insulin injections while at work)
- fear of negative feedback if optimal blood glucose levels are not maintained
This National Diabetes Week let’s change the way we talk about diabetes by showing compassion and respect. Let’s think again on what we know of diabetes and work together to reduce diabetes stigma.
If you are a person living with diabetes, use this week to book an appointment to talk with your GP about managing your diabetes.