End the diabetes blame and shame

July 18, 2021 BY

Widespread community misunderstanding and stigma about diabetes are driving high rates of mental health problems for people living with the disease, experts have warned.

Despite nearly two million Australians living with diabetes, it is one of the most misunderstood and stigmatised health conditions in the country.

Up to 80 per cent of people with diabetes report feeling blamed or shamed for living with the condition, and more than 25 per cent say other people’s attitudes and stereotypes about diabetes are negatively impacting their mental health.

Almost 50 per cent of people with diabetes have experienced a mental health issue relating to diabetes in the past 12 months.

A new survey commissioned by Diabetes Australia and released at the start of National Diabetes Week (July 11-17) revealed significant community misunderstanding about diabetes, including:

– As many as 85 per cent of people in the community believe people with diabetes shouldn’t eat sugary foods or drinks, and

–  Only 43 per cent of people understand that not all people with diabetes are overweight.

Experts believe community misunderstandings of diabetes are driving a common misconception that diabetes is simply a lifestyle condition caused by being overweight.

The “Heads up on diabetes” campaign is emphasising that diabetes is a complex range of conditions with many different types and stages. Photo: DIABETES AUSTRALIA


In reality, there are many different types of diabetes. It is a complex set of conditions, with many different risk factors including genetics and family history, age, physical inactivity, other medical conditions, and medications used, and other factors influencing a person’s risk of developing diabetes.

Diabetes Australia has launched a new advertising campaign as part of National Diabetes Week to call for an end to the diabetes blame and shame.

The organisation’s chief executive officer Professor Greg Johnson said people with diabetes were routinely stigmatised about aspects of their lifestyle and diabetes.

“Diabetes has an image problem and a stigma problem. Around 80 per cent of people with diabetes say they’ve been blamed or shamed for having the condition.

“Some common examples include people with diabetes being blamed for causing their diabetes or its complications and being judged when eating certain foods.

“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 year we are asking people in the community to ask themselves – ‘Would you mind’ if you were blamed, shamed or judged for having a serious health condition that anyone could develop?

“Nobody chooses to get diabetes – no matter what type of diabetes they have. Diabetes is a complex range of conditions with many different types and stages and while diet and being overweight is a contributing factor for many people with type 2 diabetes, there are many other contributing risk factors for diabetes that needed to be understood.”

“Nobody should be blamed or shamed about having diabetes.”

Foundation director of the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes, Professor Jane Speight said diabetes stigma had major implications for how people manage their condition.

“Diabetes is not a joke, and stigma is more than just hurtful words and actions.

“It can have a significant impact on a person’s physical, mental and on social well-being.

“It can cause people to delay or skip medications, which can increase their risk of serious diabetes-related complications.

“It also affects their willingness to seek help and support from others, including from health professionals.”

For more information, head to the Heads Up Diabetes Website.

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