This National Diabetes Week, 11-17 July, Diabetes NSW & ACT CEO Sturt Eastwood is asking people to be aware of the pressure diabetes places on the nearly 19,000 people living with the condition in the ACT.
People can experience diabetes stigma at school, among families, workplaces, sporting clubs and throughout the community. It happens at any age and, most often, there is no malice intended.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Dominic Speranza, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 30 years ago when he had just turned 21, said he was so embarrassed after diagnosis he wouldn’t tell anyone or wear a medical alert chain. This led to Dominic almost losing his life when he had a hypoglycaemic (dangerously low blood glucose levels) episode while swimming and the lifeguards who saved him were unaware of his diabetes.
“There have been times during my work life when people have made jokes about my diabetes that were inappropriate and offended me,” Mr Speranza said.
“Stigma can lead people who live with diabetes to hide it from those around them. It’s important for people with diabetes not to feel self-conscious. We need to know we have the support of our friends, family and workmates so we can ask for help when we need it,” he said.
Mr Eastwood said the causes and treatment for type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes are all different. The one thing they have in common is that no one asks to get diabetes.
“Diabetes is serious and everyone who is living with the condition deserves our understanding and support,” he said. “Unless people are aware of what members of the diabetes community are experiencing, we can’t change anything.”
Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition that attacks insulin producing cells in the pancreas. It has no known cause or cure. Once the condition develops, it requires urgent medical treatment and numerous insulin infusions every day for the rest of one’s life.
Type 2 diabetes tends to develop progressively. It can be delayed or prevented in almost 60% of cases with a healthy, active lifestyle. About 15,900 people in the ACT live with type 2 diabetes.
According to Mr Eastwood, the impact of diabetes-related stigma is real and can affect someone’s physical and emotional health.
For more information, call Diabetes NSW & ACT on 1300 342 238. All consultations are free and confidential.