Getting Rid of the Stigma Around Diabetes

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
November 27, 2017

Over 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes.[1] Half of those patients suffer mental anguish due to the social stigma associated with the disease.[2]

That stigma can lead to physical harm — and put patients’ lives at risk.

One of the underlying causes of this stigma is misunderstanding and victim-blaming. Many people believe diabetes is a self-inflicted disease caused by overeating or lack of exercise.[3]

Diabetes diagnoses are often out of people’s control. Type 1 diabetes is typically caused by genetics or certain viruses.[4] Type 2 diabetes can result from obesity. But ethnicity and genetics also play a role. African-Americans are roughly twice as likely to develop diabetes compared to white people.[5] A family history of diabetes can heighten people’s chances of developing the disease.[6]

Diabetes can be devastating to physical health. It can cause peripheral neuropathy or loss of sensation in the lower limbs, which can lead to injuries, inflammation and infections, and ultimately gangrenous lesions and lower limb amputations. Quality of life is affected, and life expectancy drops significantly as a result.

Diabetics typically blame themselves for the condition. Nearly 75 percent of people with diabetes believe it’s a character flaw or a sign of personal failure.[7] Diabetics are twice as likely as non-diabetics to experience depression or other mental health issues.[8][9]

Society also blames diabetics.[10] Some patients who inject insulin in public report receiving “looks of contempt” from passersby.[11]

Consequently, some avoid using insulin in public — even when they need it.[12] Skipping insulin doses can be detrimental, increasing the risk of coma, cardiovascular disease, and vision problems.[13]

Diabetes education can help reduce this social stigma.[14] Increased awareness of the disease can help folks understand that it’s not always self-inflicted.[15]

At SGU, we educate our community about diabetes and equip our doctors with the tools to provide comprehensive treatment to patients through courses like “Communication and Physical Diagnosis.”[16] By instilling empathy and compassion in our students, we prepare them for the type of healing that cannot be done with a prescription.

 

[1] http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/?referrer=https://www.google.com/

[2] https://www.diabeticlifestyle.com/live-well/everyday-life/avoiding-diabetes-stigma-guilt

[3] https://www.drugwatch.com/featured/diabetes-stigma/

[4] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20353011

[5] https://archive.ahrq.gov/research/findings/factsheets/diabetes/diabdisp/diabdisp.html

[6] http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/lower-your-risk/nonmodifiables.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

[7] https://diatribe.org/sites/default/files/dQA_diabetes_stigma_Poster_ADA_June_2014.pdf

[8] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11892-004-0067-8

[9] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40271-012-0001-0

[10] http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2015/sep-oct/dealing-with-diabetes-stigma.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

[11] http://clinical.diabetesjournals.org/content/35/1/27

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5611471/

[13] http://www.informationaboutdiabetes.com/lifestyle/lifestyle/dangers-of-not-taking-insulin-or-other-diabetes-medication

[14] https://www.t1everydaymagic.com/5-ways-you-can-help-end-social-stigma-around-diabetes/

[15] https://www.t1everydaymagic.com/5-ways-you-can-help-end-social-stigma-around-diabetes/

[16] http://www.sgu.edu/news-and-events/grenadas-neighborhoods-wednesday-filled-odd-sight-reclining-people-eyes-closed-poked-feet-friends-family-may-seemed-grenada-suff/

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