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Living with diabetes in plain sight

Juvenile diabetes, Hispanic. This blog is coauthored by Kristen Hendrix, MD, and Brittany Baker, LMSW, Pediatric Endocrinology.

Diabetes is not an invisible disease. Blood sugar monitoring, insulin injections and advanced diabetes technology make it very visible. This loss of privacy can leave people with diabetes open to questions, criticism and judgment by friends, family and strangers. Many comments from others stem from curiosity, but many can hurt and can add to the stress of living with diabetes. As diabetes providers and social workers, we hear from many youth and families that they often feel discouraged by the lack of understanding about diabetes, by feeling different and alone, and by people thinking they are to blame for getting diabetes.

Myths about diabetes often come from inaccurate information from the Internet and TV. Type 1 diabetes is most common in children, but less well-known. The assumption that dieting and exercise alone can prevent or cure diabetes does not apply to type 1 diabetes and misses the many other contributors to type 2 diabetes. Because this is not well understood, people often make judgments about people with both types of diabetes and it is no wonder that kids, families and adults would want to hide. However, hiding diabetes makes it hard to get good care and support.

What can be done to reduce or eliminate the stigma? One way is through education. Diabetes providers arm families with diabetes information and facts, and social workers and psychologists focus on helping people get support and learn coping skills. More importantly, we all can help by showing empathy and compassion.

Living with diabetes is not easy and blaming and shaming only makes it harder! Instead, as a community, we should encourage healthy behaviors by being a source of support and giving lots of positive feedback. We can listen and learn what diabetes means for each child, teen or family who lives with it every day. An open mind and wanting to listen and learn is the best medicine for breaking down stigma.

Dr. Kristen Hendrix, diabetes and endocrinology