“When I first became diabetic, I felt a sense of shame about it” – Uncovering the Stigma Surrounding Type 2 Diabetes and How we can Improve Education.

British Research Panel members Peter, Paul and Gillian are all living with Type 2 Diabetes. Finding out they had this condition came as a shock to them all, which is why they want to raise awareness of Type 2 Diabetes and challenge common misconceptions surrounding it.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in the UK. Figures show that 3.8 million Brits are living with a diabetes diagnosis, 90% of which have Type 2. Estimates suggest a further 1 million people in the UK are living with Type 2 who are yet to be diagnosed.

As obesity rates rise, Type 2 Diabetes cases are also increasing. Whilst being overweight is the single greatest risk factor for developing the condition, it is often assumed that the only cause for Type 2 diabetes are poor lifestyle choices. Such false assumptions can negatively impact those living with the condition, as there are many other factors involved, which is true for some of our members that we spoke to.

A Shocking Discovery

“It came as a complete shock to me. I’ve always prided myself on my lifestyle. I teach aerobics and I’ve always thought of myself as fit and healthy,” says Gillian reflecting on finding out she had Type 2 Diabetes.

Gillian has been living with this condition since 1996 and has always led a healthy lifestyle in the countryside, growing her own vegetables and cycling and walking often. For Gillian, receiving the diagnosis was unexpected, however she does recognise that hereditary factors were the most likely cause, telling us “It runs in the family. That’s probably why I’ve gotten it.”

Similarly to Gillian, Peter addresses how receiving his diagnosis was both unexpected and out of his control.

“Unfortunately, one of the things my medication can cause is for you to get Type 2 diabetes, and after some blood tests, I found out I had it. No one explained to me the risks of my medication leading to Type 2 Diabetes,” explains Peter who discovered he had the condition 4 years ago.

Although obesity is the most common reason for becoming Type 2 diabetic, there are still other factors and possible causes that are often overlooked. Nevertheless, managing this condition is a challenge for all and can greatly impact an individual’s daily life.

My mental wellbeing is definitely affected by my Type 2 Diabetes.

Daily Challenges of Diabetes

“My mental wellbeing is definitely affected by my Type 2 Diabetes. Every time I’ve got to have my eyes tested, or my feet tested, I get in a bit of a state about it,” says Gillian.

Worries and stress surrounding managing diabetes are common. Keeping track of your blood sugar levels can be a burden but can also help you to understand what makes your numbers go up and down. You can read more about managing your blood sugar levels here: Checking your blood sugar levels | Diabetes testing | Diabetes UK

Physical symptoms including blurred vision are also common, as high blood sugar can cause the lens of your eye to swell. Peter shares how this is also something he deals with.

“The only thing it does impact greatly is my vision and I get blurred vision. Regardless of whether the Type 2 Diabetes is controlled or not, that’s the one thing that is always affected.”

Following guidelines to manage diabetes such as eating well, exercising and keeping track of your numbers can certainly be demanding, but facing the additional challenge of stigma and shame surrounding diabetes is something that shouldn’t have to be contended with.

When I first became diabetic, I was very reluctant to tell people.

The Surrounding Social Stigma

“When I first became diabetic, I was very reluctant to tell people. I felt a sense of shame about it and that it was because of a lack of control. I felt that everyone would immediately think that I lay on the couch eating pork pies and chocolate and always watching the television,” says Gillian.

Hurtful stereotypes implying that people ‘chose’ to get diabetes can not only place an emotional burden on people living with the condition, but they can also hinder diabetes management related behaviours such as taking medication and sticking with meal plans.

Paul who has been living with Type 2 Diabetes for 24 years and enjoys hiking and being active also addresses a common assumption surrounding the condition.

“There are many common misconceptions. I’ve been to a number of courses and there’s an assumption that I’d be overweight. I’m not overweight and I’ve never been overweight,” says Paul.

Whilst cases of diabetes in the UK have doubled over the last 15 years, it’s clear that education on lifestyle intervention is necessary. It is also important that the misconceptions around the disease are addressed so that people’s mental wellbeing doesn’t come at a cost and that their condition can be managed without the guilt and shame that many people are currently facing.

Education as a Solution

“There’s definitely a lack of education. There’s been such an explosion in the number of people with diabetes and I think doing a good documentary about how people can avoid becoming diabetic in the first place would improve education,” suggests Gillian.

With an estimated 13.6 million people in the UK currently at risk of Type 2 diabetes, and the expectation that 1 in 10 adults will be living with the condition within a decade, it isn’t a problem that is going to go away!

At the British Research Panel, we work to raise awareness of a range of conditions and empower our members voices on issues they would like to be heard. If you would like to share your story with us, you are welcome to write to info@britishresearchpanel.co.uk.

You can learn more about how to reduce your risk and manage this condition on the Diabetes UK website here:  Living with diabetes | How to manage diabetes | Diabetes UK

To better understand how to recognise and reduce the stigma surrounding diabetes, you can also take a look at the following article: Diabetes Stigma: Learn About It, Recognize It, Reduce It | CDC


Written by
Eloise Healey


Number of people with diabetes reaches 4.7 million | Diabetes UK

10 Misconceptions about Type 2 Diabetes (beyondtype1.org)

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