The Shaming of Type 2 Diabetes

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Turning down cake at the office party. Checking your blood glucose. Injecting insulin. These behaviors help you manage your diabetes—but all too often, they also make you a target for judgment, blame and ridicule.

People without diabetes often don’t realize it. But in one recent study, four in five people with the condition report feeling stigmatized as a result of their illness. Messages you may get from friends, family, strangers, and even healthcare workers include:

  • You allowed this to happen

  • You don’t know how to eat well or exercise

  • You failed to take care of your own health

  • You’re also likely to fail in your work, relationships, and other areas of your life

  • You’re lazy

Perils of the Blame Game

Guilt, fear and shame make it harder to cope and adjust to having diabetes. You may feel bad about yourself or even develop depression, which impairs your ability to enjoy life. And these emotions may also prevent you from taking steps to take care of your health.

Turn Stigma Around

You can’t control what others think of you. But you can develop healthy coping strategies and responses. Adjusting how you think, feel and act in the face of stigma and discrimination can transform an upsetting situation into a less tense one. To get started:

Remember the facts. Carrying extra pounds and being physically inactive do increase type 2 diabetes risk. But those at a normal weight, and who live a healthy lifestyle, also develop the disease. Genetics, age, ethnicity, and other health conditions also play a role.

Let go. Negative emotions absorb energy you could use to manage your disease. Start by acknowledging feelings of fear, guilt, anxiety or anger. Doing so isn’t “giving in” to your disease. Rather, it’s a first step toward moving on. Once you recognize these emotions, develop an action plan to cope with them.

Be open. Talking about your diabetes can help others understand the condition—and the challenges you face because of it. Share informative websites with family and friends. Invite them to come along to your appointments or diabetes classes. And remind them that everyone could benefit from the types of healthy lifestyle choices that form the core of diabetes treatment.

Express your feelings clearly. Tell your friends and family what you need from them—and what you don’t. Let them know in a straightforward way that criticizing, nagging or controlling behavior makes you feel bad. Ask them to stop and to help you solve problems instead.

Manage stress. Seek out activities you enjoy and that help you tame tension. Some may be active, such as walking, dancing or gardening. Relaxing techniques like deep breathing, writing in a journal, prayer, or meditation can help, too. By restoring your mental resources, you’ll be better able to cope with the challenges of diabetes—and of others’ reactions to it.

Seek support. Finding a community of people who also have diabetes can go a long way toward easing your burden. You can share stories about how you deal with diabetes and learn from how others cope. Ask your healthcare team to help connect you.

Turn anger into action. It’s normal to feel angry about having diabetes and upset with those around you for failing to understand what you’re going through. Instead of lashing out or keeping rage inside, let it motivate you to take action. Talking with a counselor can help you channel your anger into productive actions, like managing your diabetes better.

Key Takeaways:

  • Many people with diabetes feel stigmatized because of their illness.

  • Guilt, fear and shame may lead to depression, which can prevent you from taking good care of your health.

  • Talking about your diabetes can help others understand the condition. Tell your friends and family what you need from them—and what you don’t.

  • Managing stress and belonging to a support group can also help.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 13

  1. Anderson-Lister G and Treharne GJ. ‘Healthy’ individuals’ perceptions of type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause and management: a ‘think-aloud,’ mixed-methods study using video-based vignettes.

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  12. Denial, American Diabetes Association, Accessed July 1, 2014 (http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/mental-health/denial.html);

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