End the diabetes blame and shame

“Over 450,000 Australians with diabetes need to use insulin every day to stay healthy yet many are being shamed for using insulin or checking their glucose levels in public. Picture: FILE

Widespread community misunderstanding and stigma about diabetes are driving high rates of mental health problems for people living with diabetes experts have warned.

Despite nearly two million Australians living with diabetes, it is one of the most misunderstood and stigmatised health conditions in the country.

More than 216,000 people in Queensland have felt judged or shamed because of their diabetes, the latest research indicates.

This National Diabetes Week (July 11 to 17), Diabetes Queensland CEO Sturt Eastwood is asking people to be aware of the pressure diabetes places on the nearly 270,000 people living with the condition in Queensland.

“Research tells us that four out of five people living with diabetes have experienced feeling stigmatised because of their diabetes at some time,” Mr Eastwood said.

“It doesn’t matter if a person has type 1, type 2 or another type of diabetes. All groups reported they felt judged or belittled because of their condition.

“There are many reasons someone might experience stigma. It can be because they feel misunderstood, judged, blamed or even made to feel guilty about their diabetes.

“Mentally this can be a lot for people to deal with. It can impact how someone manages their diabetes, resulting in physical and emotional complications to their health.”

Up to 80 per cent of Australians with diabetes report feeling blamed or shamed for living with the condition, and more than 25 per cent say other people’s attitudes and stereotypes about diabetes are negatively impacting their mental health.

Almost 50 per cent of people with diabetes have experienced a mental health issue relating to diabetes in the past twelve months.

A new survey commissioned by Diabetes Australia has revealed significant community misunderstanding about diabetes:

• As many as 85 per cent of people in the community believe people with diabetes shouldn’t eat sugary foods or drinks

• Only 43 per cent of people understand that not all people with diabetes are overweight.

Experts believe community misunderstandings of diabetes are driving a common misconception that diabetes is simply a lifestyle condition caused by being overweight. In reality, there are many different types of diabetes. It is a complex set of conditions, with many different risk factors including genetics and family history, age, physical inactivity, other medical conditions, and medications used, and other factors influencing a person risk of developing diabetes.

Diabetes Australia has launched a new, powerful advertising campaign as part of National Diabetes Week to call for an end to the diabetes blame and shame.

Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson said people with diabetes were routinely stigmatised about aspects of their lifestyle and diabetes.

“Diabetes has an image problem and a stigma problem. Around 80 per cent of people with diabetes say they’ve been blamed or shamed for having the condition,” Professor Johnson said.

“Some common examples include people with diabetes being blamed for causing their diabetes or its complications and being judged when eating certain foods.

“Over 450,000 Australians with diabetes need to use insulin every day to stay healthy yet many are being shamed for using insulin or checking their glucose levels in public.

“This year we are asking people in the community to ask themselves, ‘Would you mind’ if you were blamed, shamed or judged for having a serious health condition that anyone could develop?

“Nobody chooses to get diabetes, no matter what type of diabetes they have. Diabetes is a complex range of conditions with many different types and stages and while diet and being overweight is a contributing factor for many people with type 2 diabetes, there are many other contributing risk factors for diabetes that needed to be understood.”

“Nobody should be blamed or shamed about having diabetes.”

Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes, Professor Jane Speight said diabetes stigma has major implications for how people manage their condition.

“Diabetes is not a joke, and stigma is more than just hurtful words and actions. It can have a significant impact on a person’s physical, mental and on social well-being,” Professor Speight said.

“It can cause people to delay or skip medications, which can increase their risk of serious diabetes-related complications. It also affects their willingness to seek help and support from others, including from health professionals.”

Our research has found:

• 52 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes say people assume they are overweight or have been in the past

• 37 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes say people judge them for their food choices

• 26 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes have been told they brought it on themselves

• 67 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes say they are judged if they eat sugary foods or drinks

• 55 per cent say some people assume it is their fault that they have type 1 diabetes

• 31 per cent don’t tell other people they have type 1 diabetes, to avoid negative reactions