Social Treatment to Diabetes: Battling Internal and External Stigma to Combat Discrimination and Alleviate Diabetes Distress

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Anthony Collins, a fourth year Medical Student from UWI Mona in Kingston, Jamaica. He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic endocrine condition where the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired. This results in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates which results in elevated levels of glucose in the blood. Types of diabetes include type 1 (insulin dependent), type 2 (insulin independent) and gestational diabetes (diabetes in pregnancy). These have severe complications such as heart and kidney disease and nerve damage which when managed properly and early can have an excellent prognosis.

Managing this chronic condition can be hard especially with discrimination and stigma whether internally or externally. Persons associate diabetes with the negative notion that a lack of self-care especially with diet, exercise and weight control leads to the condition when in reality multiple factors are involved. These include medical reasons such as autoimmune conditions and medications as well as socioeconomic problems such as lack of funds or access to healthier food options. As a result, persons start to blame themselves which leads to worse self-care, management and diabetes distress.

Social treatments can be done to alleviate the discrimination and distress persons with diabetes feel. These include advocacy and speaking up for persons with diabetes; highlighting the realities of living with diabetes through social media, daily conversations or on other platforms to sensitize persons and show people they aren’t alone. A step further would be to use images of persons of different ethnic backgrounds and body types to highlight that diabetes doesn’t only affect 1 type of person.

Another improvement tackles the internal discrimination. This involves using non-judgemental, first person language when discussing a person with diabetes. Instead of saying “diabetic”, say “a person with diabetes” instead. Alongside that to not use “normal” when describing a person without diabetes as it implies persons with diabetes are abnormal and adds to the stigma. These will help to shed the negative notion and improve self-image. 

Lastly, not blaming yourself for the condition is the most important social treatment. This negative internal notion is just as harmful as the external notions which can lead to negative health outcomes. Instead, persons should educate themselves on their condition and associate with other persons in a support group to help in overcoming the self blame. 

Diabetes is as much a social problem as it is a medical one. Just as the medical aspect requires treatment, the social aspect requires remedying as well if we are to decrease the incidence and complications of diabetes as well as eliminating the social stigma associated with it. 

References

What is diabetes? | CDC

Diabetes Stigma is Everywhere, But You Can Do Something About It (diatribe.org)

10 Tips for Coping with Diabetes Distress | Diabetes | CDC

About the author

Anthony Collins is a fourth year Medical Student from UWI Mona in Kingston, Jamaica. He’s very passionate about research, forensics and pathology and therefore spends his time gaining experience in those areas. He also volunteers to help those in need and the environment. He serves as the Vice President of External Affairs of JAMSA Jamaica (a member of IFMSA), secretary for the Rotaract Club of UWI Mona and Assistant Treasurer for UWI One Life where he gains further personal and professional development as a student leader serving his fellow students.

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