More than 1.6 million Australians feel blamed and shamed for living with a condition they didn't choose.
According to a new Diabetes Australia report released for National Diabetes Week 2021, diabetes is one of the most misunderstood and stigmatised health conditions in the country, with up to 80 per cent of people with diabetes experiencing stigma.
With two million Australians living with diabetes, experts say misconceptions about diabetes are having a detrimental impact on the health of large communities around the country.
The data reveals 52% of people living with type 2 diabetes say that others assume they are overweight or have been in the past, 46% say there is a stigma about type 2 diabetes being a 'lifestyle disease', and 67% of people living with type 1 diabetes say they are judged if they eat sugary foods or drinks.
“Some common examples (of stigma) include people with diabetes being blamed for causing their diabetes or its complications," Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson said. “Over 450,000 Australians with diabetes need to use insulin every day to stay healthy yet many are being shamed for using insulin or checking their glucose levels in public."
This can cause harmful delays in a person's insulin injections or blood glucose monitoring, which can increase their risk of serious complications, and "also affects their willingness to seek help and support from others, including from health professionals,” Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes, Professor Jane Speight said.
More than the odd hurtful word, stigma is an unfair social mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Stigma or fear of stigma can have a significant impact on physical and mental health for people living with diabetes. Nearly 50% of people with diabetes experienced mental health challenges in the last 12 months, and more than 30% have experienced workplace discrimination, the data reports.
Diabetes Advocate Renza Scibilia was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 23 years ago. "As I came to understand my new diagnosis, I learnt that what most people know about diabetes was tied up in misconceptions that were harmful to the way I felt about my own diabetes" Ms Scibilia said in the report. "No one asks to get diabetes, and yet we often get blamed for it!"
“It's an unnecessary pressure on people who are doing their best already”, said Rod Lewis, CEO of food as medicine company MediKane.
"For people living with diabetes, the mental load of glucose monitoring, precise food intake, exercise and rest is incredibly challenging. Add on unnecessary judgement and blame, and that is an extra burden that puts good efforts towards good health at risk," Mr Lewis said.
Dr Malcolm Ball, Chief Scientific Officer of MediKane, said a common misunderstanding about diabetes is that it's a disease simply caused by eating sugar.
"Diabetes is a complex condition, with so many factors at play," Dr Ball said. "Genetics, family medical history and overall health conditions all play a part. No one's diabetes is exactly the same, and that's why, depending on your overall health, living with diabetes is different for everyone. The more tools we have to live healthier lives, and the less roadblocks we put in the way for those people doing their best, the better."
The Diabetes Australia Heads Up on Diabetes Stigma campaign is calling for an end to diabetes blame and shame.
"It's absolutely possible to live and thrive living with diabetes, no one needs to face diabetes alone," Mr Lewis said.
"With our products, community and long-term vision for global health, MediKane's goal is to improve quality of health for quality of life. Ending diabetes stigma will go a long way to helping millions of everyday Australians live their best quality of life, simple as that."
National Diabetes Week runs 11th to 17th July 2021
This National Diabetes Week, Diabetes Australia is calling for an end diabetes blame and shame.
Find out more: headsupdiabetes.com.au
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