Social Stigma Surrounding Diabetes – Does it Exist?



We are used to hearing all about social stigmas with connection to religion, gender, race, political views, etc., but do health conditions such as diabetes also have social stigmas surrounding them? For many people living with diabetes, the answer is yes. As with other health conditions, such as mental illness, lack of information causes people to misunderstand and judge people living with diabetes. People often do not differentiate between the different diabetes types, or believe that diabetes results from an unhealthy lifestyle. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

dQ&A, a market research company, surveyed over 5000 people living with diabetes regarding social stigmas and presented the results at the last ADA conference. 76% of people with type 1 felt stigmatized, and 52% of people with type 2. 83% of parent of children with type 1 diabetes reported feeling stigmatized as “causing” their child’s diabetes (taken from “Investigation of the Presence and Impact of Social Stigma on Patients with Diabetes in the USA”, Folias et al.).

Some common stigmas related to type 1 diabetes include the belief that you can “outgrow” diabetes, it is considered the “bad kind of diabetes” or that you can manage the disease by making lifestyle changes. Other stigmas include frowning upon injections or blood testing with your glucose monitor in public, believing that medical issues may interfere with the ability to work, or even ridiculous assumptions that insulin can give you an advantage at sporting events.

People with diabetes type 2 may feel that people believe they got diabetes by living an unhealthy lifestyle and that it is entirely their fault (which is far from the truth as genetics, ethnicity and age play a far greater role), and that they are “undisciplined” if they eat sugar-containing foods. Another common stigma is that this type of diabetes is “no big deal”.

All of these stigmas, and more, are very far from the truth and can cause a great amount of damage for people that are already dealing with a very difficult condition. Stigmas can prevent people from getting diagnosed and seeking proper treatment. Some people may avoid insulin injections and testing their blood sugar in public- which can have very serious consequences. People routinely face challenges in their social lives, workplace and have an increased risk of depression. Many people blame themselves for developing the disease. Such negative emotions can affect the way people view their disease and approach their diabetes management.

Education is the best way to overcome stigma. People are slowly becoming more aware of diabetes its implications and the huge mental burden that comes with it, but there is still a far way to go. Living with diabetes means you have to grow thick skin so as not to be bothered by people’s ignorance. The diabetes online community (DOC) and its array of blogs, and forums and social networks can help people feel understood and supported. It also helps to feel comfortable with the facts about diabetes and feel knowledgeable and equipped with relevant information so that you are ready for any occasion. Meeting with a team of professionals can help you create a foundation of understanding and acceptance of diabetes and diabetes management in yourself and in others.

-By Liran Julia Grunhaus

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