Queenslanders feel the impact of diabetes stigma

More than 216,000 Queenslanders have been impacted by diabetes stigma at some time because they’ve felt judged or shamed about 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.

What is diabetes stigma?

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 stigmatized because of their diabetes at some time[i],” 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’s experience

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,” Dominic 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.

About diabetes

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,” Mr Eastwood 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 your life.

Type 2 diabetes tends to develop progressively. It can be delayed or prevented in almost 60 per cent of cases with a healthy, active lifestyle. More than 235,000 people in Queensland live with type 2 diabetes.

Call if you need extra support

The impact of diabetes-related stigma is real and can affect someone’s physical and emotional health. If you or someone you care about is struggling with diabetes, please call Diabetes Queensland on 1800 177 055 and ask to make an appointment with our Psychologist. All consultations are free and confidential.

[i] 2021 Diabetes Stigma, Blame and Shame. Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes (ACBRD).


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