National Diabetes Week 2021 seeks to end the blame and shame

SOCIAL STIGMA: Diabetes can have a serious impact on mental health. Photo: Shutterstocl
SOCIAL STIGMA: Diabetes can have a serious impact on mental health. Photo: Shutterstocl

National Diabetes Week runs this year from July 11-17 and focuses on challenging diabetes-related stigma.

Co-ordinated by Diabetes Australia, the week aims to start a conversation around the impact diabetes can have on a person's mental and emotional wellbeing.

"Diabetes has a stigma problem," Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson said. "Around 80 per cent of people with diabetes say they've been blamed or shamed for having the condition. This can have a significant impact on a person's mental health and ability to manage their diabetes. Stigma can influence people to disengage with their diabetes healthcare, leading to an increased risk of serious complications.

"This year, we are asking people to put themselves in the shoes of people with diabetes and ask themselves, 'Would you like to be blamed and shamed because you had a serious health condition that anyone could develop?'"

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot make insulin or when there is not enough insulin, and/or the insulin produced does not work effectively.

There are two types of diabetes - Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes - and gestational diabetes, which can occur during pregnancy. The triggers can be genetic and/or lifestyle-related, and in the absence of cures, early disease detection and management is critical.

Diabetes has a stigma problem.

Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson

As a result, 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. 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.

Elaine Staunton was diagnosed approximately 20 years ago with Type 2 diabetes and knows the condition's stigma all too well. "People like to say it's a so-called 'lifestyle' disease, but genetics play a huge role," Elaine said. "I have three siblings with the disease plus my dad who lost both his legs as a result.

"My brother is in his 60s and is almost blind because of diabetes. And my nephew is in his 40s and ended up in hospital recently after a heart attack from diabetes-related complications."

Elaine has suffered discrimination and stigma in the workplace and socially as a result of her condition. "I used to work in a bank and had doctors appointments booked on my rostered days off for my injections," she said.

"At one stage, I was told I couldn't have those days off, and that led to arguments because there was no way I could miss those appointments.

"I was hauled over the coals in public at an aged care facility where I used to work for injecting insulin in public. I was ordered to do it in the toilets, which was personally demeaning given an aged care facility is an environment where injections are commonplace.

"Sometimes people will ask if you're having a bit of cake, 'should you be eating that?' Managing the condition day to day can be a burden that impacts my well-being and those around me. You have good days and bad, but you have to stay on track because ignoring it can be life-threatening."

Research shows the link between mental and physical illness is often overlooked. "We know that 80 per cent of people with mental illness also have serious physical health conditions, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes," Professor Malcolm Hopwood, chairman of the Equally Well Alliance, said.

Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance chairwoman Sharon McGowan added the link between physical and mental ill-health goes both ways. "Many people with chronic conditions like stroke, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer experience anxiety or depression, and these conditions can have a significant social impact," Ms McGowan said.

This National Diabetes Week, let's put ourselves in the shoes of those with diabetes and end the blame and shame.

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