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The role of education in combating diabetes stigma

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Beyond the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on daily practice, other factors impact the physical and mental health of people with diabetes. Lorna Rosalie spoke to Dr Mayank Patel, specialist diabetes consultant at Southampton University Hospital and member of the DRWF Editorial Advisory Board, about the importance of education to change attitudes towards the stigma of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. .

More than 4.3 million people in the UK are living with diabetes, according to the latest figures. About 8% of people have type 1 diabetes and about 90% have type 2 diabetes. The remaining 2% of her patients have other forms of the disease. As with many medical fields, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected routine diabetes care, and diabetic patients are more likely to become seriously ill if they contract the virus. In addition to the physical problems associated with diabetes, the condition can also affect people’s mental health. In fact, 80% of people in the UK have experienced negative attitudes because of their diabetes. (1) Lorna Rosalie recently interviewed Dr Mayank Patel, Diabetes Consultant at Southampton University Hospital and member of the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation (DRWF) Editorial Advisory Board. During the interview, they discussed some of the key challenges that people living with diabetes can face, as well as emerging topics in diabetes-related research.

How has the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic affected routine diabetes care?

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, face-to-face consultations between general physicians and diabetic patients have been limited. Lack of capacity and infrastructure for telephone and digital consultations also caused delays in patients’ access to specialists and routine diabetes care. Research has shown that some people with diabetes experience adverse outcomes over time because they did not receive timely support. This ultimately led to further deterioration of the patient’s health and more negative outcomes.

What challenges can people living with type 1 diabetes face if they don’t have access to routine diabetes care and support?

In primary care, the level of expertise in type 1 diabetes and how it differs from type 2 diabetes can vary. Not all people with type 1 diabetes see a specialist; some are treated jointly with their primary care physician. Some people receive treatment only in hospitals. Patients treated by a general practitioner can choose to see a specialist regularly or receive a referral based on clinical need.

The pandemic has affected people differently depending on their individual circumstances. The expert team did their best to support the patient. Still, there are delays in providing appointments as medical professionals are placed in different roles based on the coronavirus, which may mean individuals are experiencing delays in their routine medical appointments. It means something. Some people may want to believe that if they have a type 1 diabetes problem and for some reason become ill and end up in the hospital, they will receive the care they need.

How does living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes affect a person’s mental health? What can be done to address the stigma of diabetes?

DRWF continues to campaign and work to raise awareness to reduce the stigma of diabetes among both the general public and health professionals. People with diabetes often face myths and myths that they must debunk, which can be mentally and physically exhausting.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding diabetes. It may take some time for people to understand it better. An increased sense of togetherness has been one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic. It’s important to be kind, respectful, and empathetic towards others and to put yourself in their shoes before you act or say anything. We must always consider how our actions and words affect the feelings of others.

The ‘Language Matters’ document produced by NHS England explains how healthcare professionals can communicate effectively and sensitively without hurting or judging people. (2) This is a great resource, but it takes time for everyone to adopt these habits. Unfortunately, we still hear complaints from patients about insensitive language used by hospital staff, which is disappointing. There is a need to improve education, starting at the undergraduate level, on how medical professionals should communicate with patients, not just in diabetes treatment but in general medical care. I continue to lead the creation of a free-to-download Type 1 Diabetes comic series. One of his issues focuses on stigma (volume 3), and he also focuses on the risks he poses to people with type 1 diabetes if their blood sugar levels drop too low. (3)

When it comes to type 2 diabetes, there is a lot of stigma surrounding obesity and weight. I know of a document in my partner that has been created or drafted that talks about the importance of language and how it affects overweight individuals. (4) Encourage people to be careful about their words and how they affect others. The challenge is to make this change in mindset stick and educate individuals on how to communicate effectively with people. Although this can be an uncomfortable process, it is necessary to create a more supportive and empathetic environment.

Similarly, people living with diabetes need the mental strength to express their discomfort if they are labeled with an offending label. Speaking up is so important because not everyone understands the impact of their words. Addressing the problem can bring about behavioral change. For example, if someone is labeled as “diabetic,” you can ask them to respond as someone who has or lives with diabetes. Certain descriptors may seem trivial to others, but have significant value to the person being described. It’s important to communicate respectfully and let others know your preferences.

Could you highlight recent developments in diabetes-related research?

For people with type 1 diabetes, newer, more advanced technology and smarter personal insulin infusion pumps are being rolled out across the country that allow people to monitor their blood sugar levels without pricking their fingers. However, after several years of clinical use, more long-term data are awaited to assess the impact on type 1 diabetes-related health outcomes. One area of ​​interest that research suggests is the link between menopause and diabetes. Patient organizations are keen to learn more and explore this area further. Stigma is also a frequent issue. In my opinion, more research needs to be done on diabetes care in hospitals, including for diabetic patients who have had surgery, as it has been observed that diabetes can lead to certain complications. We believe that there is. We need to look deeper to consider different approaches to managing these complications, and by doing so, we may be able to find ways to manage these issues more effectively. .


  1. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about-us/news-and-views/how-were-working-tackle-diabetes-stigma
  2. https://www.england.nhs.uk/publication/ language-matters- language-and-diabetes/
  3. https://revolvecomics.com/read-diabetes-type-1-comics/
  4. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bc74880ab1a6217704d23ca/t/612e32f5d423b36012a1bb16/1630417666068/FINAL_Obesity_UK_Language_Matters_2020.pdf

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