How does diabetes stigma develop and what are some strategies to combat it?

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Kaché Hanna, a fourth year medical student from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica. She 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 is a disease that can occur in one of two ways: either the pancreas is unable to make enough insulin or the body is unable to utilize insulin effectively. Insulin is essential since it is the hormone responsible for regulating blood glucose levels. Blood glucose levels that are too high might result in serious problems such as renal disease, neuropathy, and retinopathy. There is currently stigma against those with diabetes, which poses numerous obstacles for them. Due to their diagnosis, those with diabetes may be subjected to harsh attitudes and unpleasant treatment from society. The stigma generally stems from the notion that persons with diabetes have made poor dietary and lifestyle choices, while ignoring other risk factors such as genetics, lifestyle, socioeconomic status, and environmental factors that may have contributed to the diagnosis. Internal stigmas associated with diabetes include self-blame, embarrassment, remorse, and the fear of losing relationships or jobs. Those who experience stigma may be deterred from monitoring their blood glucose levels out of shame, refrain from injecting insulin in public, and avoid seeking medical assistance, which can result in severe complications.

The way people see and discuss diabetes can play a significant role in both enhancing the health outcomes for those who have the condition and lowering the stigma and judgment attached to it.Diabetes discrimination can be combatted through awarness campaigns in schools, clinics,  work places to ensure all individuals know the various ways diabetes can develop. Education is the most effective strategy to combat disease misconceptions. Within these workshops, speakers might discuss the significance of language selection. For instance, referring to an individual with diabetes as a “diabetic” can make them feel like they are nothing more than their disease and not a person. Additionally, in order to challenge negative preconceptions, individuals with diabetes can tell their stories at these workshops. Also, when images are used in presentations, it should show that this disease affects people of diverse races, ages, ethnicities, body types, and genders. It is also essential that health care personnel are aware of any possible biases they may have in order to ensure that they educate and treat their patients without criticizing or blaming them.

Furthermore, diabetes distress can be alleviated through the use of telemedicine and digital health. Due to the fact that diabetes requires daily care and monitoring, the use of technology can make it easier for those with diabetes to monitor their blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Incorporating telemedicine would also be beneficial because it allows individuals to communicate with health care specialists in times of emergency or uncertainty. Lastly, joining support groups is another option for individuals to feel supported by their community. 

Through educational campaigns, workshops, the use of digital health, and support groups, diabetes prejudice and distress can be addressed. We are all responsible for ensuring that members of our society do not feel excluded or alone.

References

  1. Diabetes. (2022, September 16). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/diabetes
  2. Type 2 Diabetes. (2022, March 2). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/type2.html
  3. Liu, N. F., Brown, A. S., Folias, A. E., Younge, M. F., Guzman, S. J., Close, K. L., & Wood, R. (2017). Stigma in People With Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes. Clinical Diabetes, 35(1), 27–34. https://doi.org/10.2337/cd16-0020
  4. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. (2018). Diabetes stigma and discrimination: finding the right words. The Lancet Diabetes &Amp; Endocrinology, 6(9), 673. https://doi.org/10.1016/s2213-8587(18)30235-3
  5. About the author
  6. Kaché Hanna is a fourth year medical student from the University of the West Indies. She was awarded a first degree with honors in a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Biotechnology. She  presently serves as the External Affairs Regional Assistant for the Americas for the IFMSA and as the National Officer for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights including HIV/AIDs for the TTMSA. She is a bronze and silver awardee of the Sir Duke of Edinburgh Youth Award. She is passionate about health equity, research and believes we all have a social responsibility to serve our communities. 

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